I am not one of those people who sailed into the world of running, buoyed by endless reserves of natural ability. My first foray into the sport was an ill-fated attempt at cross country during my middle school years. Somehow, I reasoned at the time, getting involved in a sport would rescue my social standing from the depths of nerd-dom, and given that I had absolutely zero ability at any sport involving hand-eye coordination (let’s not talk about the time I accidentally CAUGHT THE BALL during a game of volleyball in 6th grade gym class), cross-country seemed like a safe bet. No flying projectiles to dodge, just me, myself, and I, gracefully galloping through the woods. Or so I envisioned. Nevermind that I had never so much as jogged around the block before attempting this feat, I was gonna be a runner!
Suffice it to say, I started off at the back of the pack during the first day of summer conditioning practice, and really it only went downhill from there. The top runners on our team finished races in times faster than I could even think. Meanwhile, my one and only season as a student athlete was marked with near-constant last place finishes and a whole lot of wheezing. In one particularly egregious instance, I finished (in last place of course) a race on an overcast, 45-50-degree October day. Turns out cold air + asthma + exertion was a pretty gnarly combination for me at the time…I gasped for air like a dying fish at the finish line and could hardly speak, which prompted my parents (thanks Mom and Dad!) to whisk my sorry self straight into the school cafeteria for a 20-minute nebulizer treatment. Remember that part about wanting to improve my social standing and be one of the cool kids? Turns out that “doing a breathing treatment in your school cafeteria after finishing a race in dead last place and nearly collapsing at the finish line” is not generally how you do it, at least in middle school.
Still, I gritted my teeth, toughed out the rest of the season, and got to the end with my dignity mostly intact. Unfortunately with school sports being the overly competitive minefields they have become in modern times, I felt that there was no point in trying again the next year. No one ever said it out loud, but the serious lack of encouragement and ability-appropriate advice from the coaches spoke volumes, heaping an extra layer of shame onto the the humiliation I felt at literally not being able to keep up with my teammates. Perhaps my experience would have been different had I tried again the next year, but at the time I decided to call it a day and focus on other, more promising interests far outside the realm of athletics.
I didn’t attempt to run again for another 8 years, but in college I had a few friends convince me to try the Couch to 5K, and I fell in love with it. I finished my first 5K, then a half-marathon, and a few other 5Ks and 10Ks in the subsequent years, stories which I’m sure will unfold over time on this blog. The world of running I have discovered since my middle school cross country days is so much different than the world of running as an interscholastic sport. It’s a world that’s inclusive of a wide variety of speeds, abilities, goals, and attitudes. Where people cheer each other on, and the person who guts it out for a last-place finish is as worthy of celebration as the person who wins the entire race. I’m not necessarily advocating for “participation trophies” here—winning outright is awesome and shouldn’t be cheapened in any way. But it’s also awesome in its own right when someone who has never run in their life laces up their shoes, trains for, and finishes their first race. Or when people recovering from serious illness or injury get back out on the course, slower but still determined to do what they can, as best they can. Or when people finish a 100-mile race, regardless of how fast they do it.
I hope to capture the best of that world in this blog and as I travel to different places and races across the U.S., with my goal to complete a race in all 50 states. Because I get bored running the same distance and terrain all the time, I’ll be tackling a variety of distances, from the mile to the marathon (and maybe more!). Someday I’d also love to try trail racing. The only rules for a race to count are:
- It has to be an official race for which participants register (so, no going for a jaunt around the block and claiming a new state that way).
- A race does NOT have to be exclusively running, but it does need to have a running component (i.e., triathlons count, bike races do not).
- I have to finish the race, even if it means crawling on all fours across the finish line.
Otherwise, it’s all fair game, and I’ll be documenting my progress on the state map and list of races. Here’s to the start of a wild, wonderful adventure!