Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Once a Runner

I started running in the 7th grade when I was 12 years old. That was 24 years ago.

I went out for the track team because one of my best friends said it was fun. Her cool older sister ran track. My BFF quit after a week and I was left on the team shy and alone, unable to run even one lap around the track without walking.

At less than 5 feet tall and somewhere in the 70 pound range, I was nearly blown off the track by the Oklahoma winds.

I ran the entire season in navy blue Keds and bobby socks. I finished last place every race. My parents, loyal and impervious to shame, came to each meet, enduring the comments from nearby spectators:

Look at that poor girl. She's so slow. And her legs are like twigs. Oh look, she's waving at people in the stands. And smiling...while racing. How old is she?

I honestly can't tell you why I stayed with it. As a puny and awkward non-athlete, running was hard for me. But quitting was even harder...and so I stayed on the track.

I'm glad I did. I became part of a team. I was "a runner." And when you're in 7th grade, identity is everything.

My track coach encouraged me to run the next fall. Thankfully cross-country proved to be better than track. With a field of 50-150 participants, I was no longer dead last in every race.

As the seasons rolled by, I kept running. By my sophomore year I was actually decent, though hardly a standout on my 5A state championship team. I proudly wore a letter jacket with track and cross-country badges. My parents sacrificed so I could get a team state championship ring...which now fits my pinky. And at 36, I still wear my silver necklace with the runner pendant I got when I was 16.

Because once a runner, always a runner...if only in spirit.

I owe a lot to running. Running taught me discipline, exemplified by thrice-weekly 5 a.m. runs as a high-schooler. Endurance as I ran barefoot with my teammates for over an hour in the sand bars of the Arkansas River. Dedication. Determination. Focus. Perseverance. I could use a little more of those virtues now. As a mom of young kids, every day feels like a marathon.

Running gave me life-long friendships {reconnected through the magic of Facebook} and opportunities for leadership. It gave me a place to belong during those tenuous teenage and college years. It was and still is part of who I am.

Best of all, running gave me my husband of 14 years. I met him when we were 18 on our college cross-country team. That was 18 years ago and he is still handsome and fast.

Since then I've endured injuries, pregnancies, surgery, physical therapy, and apathy. I've run mini-marathons and not run for years at a time.

Today I'm a runner, thanks once again to a friend's invitation. Months ago she said to me, Let's run. You've been saying you want to get back out there. Let's do it together. After a 5-year hiatus, I felt much like I did in 7th grade: insecure, puny, and awkward.

Three to four mornings a week I'm out the door before the sun comes up. It's not much but it feels good to lace up my sneakers, sweat, watch the sun come up, and chat through labored breathing with my faithful running partner. In the midst of this crazy season of my life, running is the calm, the thing I do that's just for me.

Seemingly random events can set our course. I owe a lot to that 7th-grade invitation, inconsequential though it seemed...a gift granted 24 years ago that keeps on giving.


{Title of this post is also the title of a book by John Parker . Wanted to give credit where credit is due.}

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