June 5 was National Running Day. This post was intended to be published then, but for some reason it sat in the draft folder untouched and unnoticed as June 5 came and went. But, as they say, better late than never.
I suppose it all began in the 9th grade, the first year we boys were eligible for the varsity basketball team. Now, I’d been “playing” basketball since the fourth grade, but I use the term very loosely. I wasn’t very good at any aspect of the game, I was really just an extra body needed to give the real players a breather once in a while. Anyway, tryouts came, and in the end, it came down to me and my best friend. I lost. At first, I figured he was chosen since his dad worked at the school where we held practices and games. However, Coach took me aside and explained that it had come down to one deciding factor: stamina. I simply couldn’t keep up with the other players. I vowed that day to show them all what I could do.
For the next year, I tried to run at least a mile every day: in the sun, in the rain, in the snow – it didn’t matter. Somewhere in that year, my goal of making the basketball team took second place to the joy I found in running. For the first time I experience the runner’s high. I learned to love the wind in my face and the steady rhythm of my feet hitting the ground. I found comfort in my own thoughts. And when tryouts were held the next year, I could outlast them all; by my senior year, I had turned into a punishment: “You can stop running when Jay does!”
I continued to run in college; taking advantage of “proper” athletic tracks to relieve academic stress and brain fatigue. It was during my freshman year that I participated in my first organized race: the Turkey Run, an annual event held the Saturday before Thanksgiving. My first official time: 31.16. My best time would be during my senior year: 20:15. I began running longer distances, too. I’d run between 8 and 10 miles every other day and about 13 on weekends. I didn’t realize it, but I was already training myself for a half-marathon.
And then, real life got in the way. I graduated and landed a second-shift job in Quality Assurance at Moen. I began remodeling a house – a real fixer upper that had been left empty for at least 15 years. I just didn’t have time to run. No, let me be honest, I didn’t make the time to run.
8 months after graduating college, I got married; two weeks later I lost my job. I was despondent: no-one was hiring someone of my age with my limited experience. For whatever reason, my unemployment never came through. In short, I was depressed; the last thing I wanted to do was run again. After three months, I found some summer work with a general contractor. That fall, I was hired by a local school to teach social studies. Again, I just didn’t make time to run.
December 17, 2010 changed everything. It was the first day of Christmas Vacation, and I was driving across town to pick my wife up from work. An idiot distracted by his cell phone blew a red light and t-boned me in the driver’s side door with his Yukon Denali XL. I was driving a Pontiac Grand Am. Although the EMT’s first words to me were “Why aren’t you dead?” I escaped with relatively minor injuries. Nevertheless, I became extremely depressed. After several months of this, my wife was fed up with it and suggested I do something I enjoyed: get back into running.
So I did. I signed up for a marathon, and 11 months to the day of my accident I finished my first official 26.2 miles at the North Carolina Marathon (High Point, NC) in 06.13.27. I was hooked. Several months later I ran the Cherry Point Half Marathon in 2:05:19. Let me tell you, it felt good to pass a quite a few Marines in the last 2 miles, some of whom were drill sergeants. Last fall I ran the Freedom’s Run Marathon in Shepherdstown, WV in 05:29:38. In my opinion, every marathoner should try to complete this run. It’s an absolutely beautiful course with history everywhere. On November 10, I’ll be running my 3rd marathon: the Outer Banks Marathon in coastal North Carolina. My goal is to finish in 04:30:00 or less, but any time under 05:00:00 will do.
To be honest, my training has been slack. As the heat of summer approaches here in Eastern NC, it’s important to avoid heat exhaustion. Right now I can do around 10 miles no problem and push through to 15, but I really want to keep a 10 minute mile pace (or better) for the duration.
Some people don’t understand why I run. They don’t see the point in running long distances. All that effort – for what? There really isn’t a personal, tangible benefit to running a marathon. I’ll finish hours after the winner and most spectators will be gone; even the volunteers will most likely be winding down. It could be to benefit organizations such as Big Brother/Big Sister, the Wounded Warrior Project, or the Civil War Preservation Trust. However, I don’t put in long hours on the trail thinking about “the cause”. Neither do I run purely for my health: I’m strengthening my heart and lungs at the cost of my knees.
So why do I run? I run to relieve stress. I run to be alone with my thoughts. I run to once again enjoy the wind in my face and the rhythm of my feet as they hit the ground. I run for the same reason others have sailed oceans, climbed mountains, crossed deserts, and ascended into space: I run because the road is there.