Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Joy of Running

Officer Basic Course Flashback:
Me: Hey, Holly, some of are going to go get dinner. Wanna go?
Holly: Thanks, but I'm getting ready to go for a run.
Me: Why?
Holly: Because I like running.

Say what?! In 1997, the idea of running for fun was completely foreign to me. For the life of me, I could not understand why anyone would take her own free time and go for a run. Running and I had a very bumpy start.

Now in the very beginning it wasn't so bad. I would run the 50 meter dash at track meets in grade school, and usually I would get some kind of ribbon. At that point, I fancied myself as an okay runner from what I can recall. It was all uphill from there.

High School Flashback:
As a freshman, my coach asked me to run on the mile relay team for track. 3 of my friends were on the team, and a 4th wanted to be on the team. Coach wanted me on the team for what reason I know not. It turned into a battle, and I didn't want to take my friend's spot. I remember my coach doing his darnedest to talk me into it. I remember feeling really awful about the whole situation, but somehow I wound up on the team instead of Angela. I didn't really want to run that far nor did I want to take Angela's spot, but there I was. It gets worse...

When I was younger, my mom would affectionately refer to me as space cadet. I liked Star Trek, so I was good with that. There was a little more to it, however. You know when you are talking to someone and you "space out" or lose track of your point? Well, I did that, but it was a bit more. I would be talking, and every once in a while, I would just stop. A few seconds later, I had no idea what I was just saying. In fact, it felt as if someone had pulled the curtain, and I really wasn't even seeing what was right in front me. Seconds later, I was back and confused.(I am happy to report that I graduated space cadet academy and no longer have this issue.) Now imagine being a teenager, standing on a track waiting for the relay baton, and doing that as your friend Ginger runs past you. You don't move an inch as coaches, classmates, and kids from other schools are watching.  Yep, I was beyond embarrassed. One minute Ginger was running up behind me. The next she was jumping up and down at the hand-off line. That was the only year I ran track in high school.

Coach had a rule. If you played on the varsity basketball team, you had to run at cross-country practice to get in shape for basketball. I loved basketball, and I made varsity my sophomore year. I felt like the slowest person at cross-country practice. I imagine that I really wasn't, but that didn't matter much. Before district competition my sophomore year, one of the runners  on the team caught a cold. Coach told me I had to run. Because of that district meet, I missed a debate competition. Thanks again, running! Running was a torture I was willing to endure to play basketball.

West Point Flashback:
"Gold Group" was slowest of all running groups during basic training at West Point, and there I was. Usually, most of the women wound up in Gold Group.  "Look, that must be gold group," remarked an upperclassman as he passed by during one of my first mornings at physical training (PT). Now whether he said something about us being girls or I just took it that way I cannot remember. There are more stories, but I will move on... By my firstie (senior) year, I was being counseled by my TAC (tactical officer) for scoring so poorly on the run on my PT test. I even lost my extra 3 day passes because I didn't score well enough. Seeing a trend here?

Army Flashback:
After that, it was on to Fort Campbell where I was expected to be able to run 4 miles in 36 minutes even though it was above and beyond the women's Army PT standards. Even if I had tried to keep up, I despised running so much by this point that it was never going to happen.

"Ralls, get up here or you have no heart!" Yelled the XO Major in front of God and country during a battalion run. I had stuck it out until the last mile, but he decided we had fallen behind pace.  That meant it was time to run an 8 minute mile up a big hill. I was barely holding on before the hill. His style of "motivation" completely took the wind out of my sails. I looked him dead in the eye and slowed down. I was at the front of the battalion with the rest of the staff which meant I had fallen out in front of the entire battalion. Nice, eh? After the run, I received a counseling statement from my boss about how I needed to improve my running. Of course, it didn't say anything about how to do that. That was how running was for me in the Army.

For 15 years, running had been the bane of my existence, and I felt like a failure.

Wait one minute! I thought this post was about the joy of running?!
Uhm, yeah, it is.
Sounds more like torture to me!
Uhm, yeah, it was. Let's continue, shall we?

After the Army, I kept running. I would like to say that it was because I enjoyed it, but it wasn't. With age came a slower metabolism and weight gain. With running, I was able to eat more activity points with Weight Watchers. Finally, I was getting something out of running.  More food! I also picked up a book about women's running so I could understand how to do a little better since I was running anyway. Shortly after that (in 2005), I signed up for my first 5K. No one MADE me run it. No one told me I had no heart. In fact, people were smiling and cheering. It was, dare I say, kind of fun. After that, I signed up for a few more. I also started reading about running... a lot. I began to understand the importance of weekly mileage, hills, and speed workouts. I was also enjoying the nice pair of legs that were forming and the weight that was leaving. Suddenly, I cared about getting better at running. I also found friends who would run with me. After races I would sometimes receive age group awards rather than counseling statements. With the weight now gone, I kept on running.

5Ks turned into 10Ks. 10Ks into half marathons. Then a trail marathon. Then 50K. Then 50 miles. Crazy, right?

At the beginning of my
first 50 miler in 2010
Now running is not only about improving and learning. When I run with friends, it is about forming relationships. When I run alone, it is one of the times I am closest to God. During a span of 23 years, running has transformed from torture to pure joy. Does that mean every run is all sunshine and rainbows? Heck no! Just like life, there are ups and downs. In the end, it is worth every step and each step is important. Without the rather depressing first years of my running life, I might have never reached an understanding of how difficult things can turn into blessings. How could something that felt so terrible transform into something that brings me happiness, peace, and strength? No clue, but I know it has God's fingerprints all over it.

If you are new to running or are struggling with it, throw any shame to the wind and don't give up on yourself. There is no telling what is down the road for you. Life is full of surprises!

Godspeed :-)

1 comment:

  1. Cassie, you have captured so much of my own running journey! I'm not up to a 50 miler yet, but maybe someday. I love that I found your blog - looking forward to following you and your ultra adventures!