Much like Macklemore’s story, mine also begins with a pair of Nikes.
They were my first “running” shoes. I was 20, living in Myrtle Beach, and the Nike Outlet was just down the road, so I picked up a pair one day during training for the Manchester Road Race. I don’t recall the actual model name, but they definitely weren’t running shoes. They were gray and had some sort of Air piece in the heel, the sort of shoes that cause Nike to get a bad rap in the running community, since most of their “run” line isn’t suitable for the activity. For my beginning self, they sufficed, although looking back, they could have caused the shin splints that I fought for a long time . . .
Luckily, my local running group convinced me to go down to Charleston (Myrtle Beach didn’t have a running store at the time) and get actually fitted for a pair of shoes. I wish I could tell you what that entailed, but I honestly don’t remember. They may have videotaped me running, or just watched me (my navicular drop is pretty noticeable). Either way, I left the store with moldable inserts and a stability shoe. These got me through the Manchester Road Race, Myrtle Beach Half Marathon, National Half Marathon and Cooper River Bridge Run.
And so there I was. A “runner”. I’d run off-and-on for the next few years, switching between the Saucony Guide, the Brooks Adrenaline and the Mizuno Inspire, never really having injury problems, just motivation problems. I never actually wore any of these shoes out, though I did finally destroy those original Nikes during a hash, when the entire Air unit in the left heel fell off. (Hey look, it’s zero drop now!) I would run occasionally in Georgia, completing a few 5ks, and dreaming of one day trying the Labor Day 10k.
Fast forward several years, and I was now running in lighter shoes, along with changing jobs, postal codes and foot-strikes. Firmly in the New Balance camp, I’d rotate between the 790, 100 and 101, depending on the terrain. I even managed to run a few marathons in the 100 and 101′s. And I was definitely a “runner” at that point. I was more consistent in my running. I would try to stick to a schedule, and actually schedule my life around running, on occasion. Not everyone in my life understood this concept, or agreed with it, and so some circumstances were altered. And I kept on running.
And then it all changed.
Well, kinda changed.
Well, not really changed, in the short term, but down the line, it totally did.
If you’re still reading, I guess I should keep writing.
You see, Merrell was blowing up the niche-market with the Glove-line of running shoes. Being a shoenerd, I picked up a pair of the Trail Gloves. (I also had a pair of the New Balance Minimus Trail 10 shoes at the time, but I was never satisfied with them). This was my lightest pair of shoes to date, and I loved them. Not for trails, mind you. I think they’re horrible for that. No rock protection, no lugs to grip in muddles (aka mud puddles, I’m hoping “muddles” will catch on), I still don’t understand why they’re called the “Trail Glove”. But for roads and greenways, they were amazing! I would wear my NB Minimus Road 10 for training runs, but when I wanted to go fast, the Trail Glove was the shoe to wear.
And so it was that I started “racing”. And I touched the net! Mama, I touched the net!
. . . so to speak
I started learning about myself, and just what my limits were. With these shoes, I was suddenly dropping paces that I’d never dreamed of before. My 5k PR had over 3 minutes shaved off it in less than 16 months! I was running faster and faster, and every new pair was guaranteed to get me closer to the Olympics! Watch out, Meb! On your left, Galen! Hold my bag, Ryan! I was the next big thing!
I think the pain-management aspect of “racing” is what fascinates me most of all. How do these people, from elite professionals to local age-group winners, find the strength to push their bodies through so much? For a great analysis of what can motivate endurance athletes, and where it can take them, check out “Iron War”, Matt Fitzgerald’s gripping story of the 1989 Ironman World Championships, and the battle between Mark Allen and Dave Scott. If you’re more interested in a mediocre blog post that briefly touches on some of the same points, continue reading here.
I hated running as a child/teen. Or physical exertion in general, when I felt any pressure or unwanted effort. I had asthma growing up, usually induced by exercise, or allergies, and I can remember using that as a crutch when I just flat out didn’t want to try. I’d also use rolled ankles as an excuse, for while I did have some nasty injuries from coming down from a rebound onto someone’s foot, that wasn’t always real. Looking back, I’m incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of how I just did not want to try. My parents are absolutely amazing, and always stood by me, I hope to one day mirror their example when I have children of my own.
I now wonder what would have happened if I had actually taken to running in middle school and high school. Not necessarily in the “would I have been good enough to run in college” sense, but would I still be running today? Would I have burned out, or irreparably injured myself? Or would I be further along than I am today? Obviously, we’ll never know, and it doesn’t do any good to live in the past like that.
It took me a while to realize that what had changed wasn’t the shoes (they had, but not enough to truly make a difference), it was my mentality. I was learning to “race”, and not just run. Not like JLG, trying to compete at every group run, but when the gun when off, I was trying to find my red line and hold it. To learn what exactly I could maintain or pick up from at a set distance. I’m not implying that you have to run a certain pace or distance, it’s more a reflection on my finally, truly devoting time, energy, sweat and blood to running, and to having a purpose while doing it.
This didn’t always work out. My Rock’n’Roll Savannah collapse was one for the ages. In my quest to find my limits, I found my 2 mile limit during a half marathon. But I learned from that, and continued to try to test myself as a runner. I finally ran a road marathon, and once again collapsed. But learned more about training and pacing. And to find some strength and peace in the search for that elusive limit. During his best man’s toast at our welcome dinner, my brother referenced my searching for and pursuing my passions. I had never really thought about it that way before, that I was looking for what inspired me, and that drove me.
And this was how I spent 2011/2012. Racing and reaching for the stars. In some ways, I reached too high and it all fell down. 2013 was spent mostly trying to learn to love running again. And to learn to run without the help of a community of rabbits, without constantly being able to find a partner for whatever distance at whatever pace and whatever time of day or night. And to work on developing my own running community, and all that it entails. And to remind myself that running can be fun at any pace. That 10 mile tempo runs are just as much fun as 3 mile recovery runs. And that a mile is a mile, regardless of pace.
And so here I sit, plotting out another year. Are my eyes once again bigger than my mouth? Are my feet bigger than my shoes? Is that an apt metaphor? Looking ahead, I’ve got a road 8k, trail 14 miler, trail 40 miler and road marathon between today and the end of April. I fully intend to “race” at least 3 of those, but more than that, I intend to enjoy all of them. Every step of the way. Even the painful steps. Especially the painful steps. To run without inhibition or preconception, to find my limits, to surpass them, and then go out for a cooldown