“…running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we’re scared, we run when we’re ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time.” – Christopher McDougall, Born to Run
June 1, 2011 was National Running Day, at least in the United States, so I felt like jotting down some of my thoughts about running and why it’s important to me. A couple of days ago, some of my friends asked me about the sports I did when I was a kid. They couldn’t believe the answer was “zero team sports” and that I claimed to be the “least athletic girl, ever.” “Weren’t you a tomboy when you were little?” my roommate Alia asked in disbelief. Indeed, I was unathletic and uninterested in anything that tore me away from Girl Scouts, American Girl dolls, and my homework. I was too shy to ever join AYSO or a basketball team – something I’d come to regret later for sure. Anyway, at my Dad’s urging, I signed up for youth track, the Thousand Oaks Flyers, during 5th grade. From 5th – 8th grades, I was more or less the “slow kid” on the team. I was bad at field events, didn’t have a fast-twitch fiber in my body, so I decided to focus on the mile. I can’t even begin to guess what my fastest time was during those years, but 7:30 or 7:45 is probably a good guess. I remember at one point my parents sitting me down and telling me that I was in races and I should try to care enough to not come in last. After that pep-talk, I started putting in a little bit more effort. My parents claimed I was now actually racing, and started finishing second-to-last and third-t0-last (huge gains in the JV Youth Track world!). I envied my friends who got blue ribbons at the meets each week while I walked off with the teal blue participants’ ribbon. Awesome.
Anyway, high school came around and I was going to a new school where I didn’t know a ton of people. Again, my parents came through with the ultimatum in the hopes I’d meet some people and start school with a leg-up. I’d either have to do summer school (eww, why?) or commit to summer conditioning practices, 6 days a week, all summer with the Cross Country team. The pre-LSAT me saw the hellish running practices as the more logical option so I signed up for that. I can still remember my first practice ever with the team, at Juan de Anza Park. I was slow, that’s for sure. My Dad told me he had called the coach previously to let him know where I was at – that I’d never end up winning a race or anything, but I’d try my hardest and all that stuff parents say.
I had an amazing experience with cross-country. It literally was my life in high school. I lived for meets and for post-season banquets that dragged on for hours, forged solid friendships with my teammates, and got faster. By the end of freshman year, I had run 21-something for a 5k and a mile in 5:51, and my former Youth Track coach came up to me at a race in Clovis, CA to tell me how surprised he was at my improvements. Thanks? At the end of four years, I had some truly unforgettable experiences: a PR of 19:44 in the 3-mile, a 5:32 mile, a trip to Portland for the Nike Team Nationals in Cross Country, being captain, a spot on the varsity team (more or less) my junior and senior years, 3 epic training trips to Mammoth, overnights trips for races in Fresno and Stanford, and a love of running. My Coach was legendary and instilled intense fear into all of us, the varsity girls especially. I remember the month I cried basically every day when he told us he was leaving to coach the local private university’s women’s team. When that didn’t end up happening we were so relieved, and so were our parents (but likely more so for mental health reasons).
Moving to Berkeley was a tough transition – I was no longer training for anything and didn’t have practices to center my day around. I eventually developed an affinity for the gym, but it wasn’t the same. In 2007, I ran 3 half-marathons: Orange County, Santa Cruz, and the Disneyland Half which left me saying “I am never doing that again” and a bad case of tendonitis (thank you, +90 degree weather and under-training on my part). Running has consistently been a healthy hobby that I look forward to every day – and I honestly feel like my day isn’t complete until I’ve worked out. In the last few months, I’ve slowly become a true runner again, thanks in part to the great parks right outside my piso, and enjoyable experiences in the Madrid Half and recent 10k.
Running is something that anyone can do, at any age, and it is partly for this reason that I am re-dedicating myself to the most laid-back sport around. The myths of the “runner’s high” and “running culture” aren’t myths – just ask any runner. One thing I love about my small hometown is that almost every time I go for a run, I either run into someone I know or I have a text/facebook comment awaiting me at home that says “saw you on X street!” or “that was me honking!”
I celebrated National Running Day with a 4.5 miler in my local Parque Santander in Madrid and let my mind wander and my feet pound the pavement to my mash-up infused playlist. After several years as a runner, I can say I’ve won a couple races but still can’t sprint to save my life.
How did you celebrate National Running Day? What’s your workout story?