Running isn’t a sport. That’s what I heard constantly throughout the 2 1/2 years I ran Cross Country in High School.
You’ve heard this sentiment. And it may even be accurate.
Running is different. As a distance runner, you run miles on black top, grass, sidewalk, wooded trails, sand, train-tracks, and every other surface you come across. Your competitions are at parks, beaches, schools, and neighborhoods. Your uniform is short shorts and a translucent tank top. You run in rain, snow, sleet, fog, hot or cold. You train alone, in pairs, a group, or however you want.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Runners compete against themselves. Yes, in competition, the hundred other runners are vying for the lead, too, but if you’re not capable of first place, which I never was, then the only thing that matters in competition is beating your personal record- Your PR.
My PR on the 1 mile was 5:53. My PR on the 2 mile was 11:49. My PR on the 5k was 18:11.
Not impressive. But mine.
My Junior Year of high school Fight Club debuted and my team found our anthem from the main characters, Tyler Durden.
“I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.”
The feeling of pushing past my threshold of pain to a new PR was exhilarating. And painful. My sister used to finish races with a pale, white face at the finish line, like a ghost, dry-heaving or vomiting at the finish line. That was the victory. That was the accomplishment. That was the sport of it. That’s honor.
Every time I broke my PR, I recognized that my limit was merely an illusion that I could push through, even though it seemed impossible.
And that’s not even the best of it.
We were family friends with the coach of another High School’s Cross Country team, so when I decided to start running, I trained with them in the grueling, triple-digit Summer of Fresno between my Freshman and Sophomore year. It was horrible. It was hot. It was painful. But it felt fulfilling somehow, so I continued.
At the end of every Summer, they had a Cross Country camp in North Lake Tahoe, where their whole team + me trained twice a day, everyday, for 7 days. The clear, thin, pine-filled air of Tahoe was bliss. It was there, after 3 months of training that I fell in love with running.
The main goal of the distance run was to run at an even pace that you could keep the entire time to build up endurance. We’d run 20 or 25 or 30 or 35 minutes, then we’d turn around and run back. It was on an old, closed-down, wood chipped covered fire trail on a mountain-side, with small streams running across it. It was runner’s paradise. Since the trail was near so much water, though, if you stopped, you were attacked by dozens, if not hundreds, of mosquitoes.
Luckily, I never stopped. I just kept on running. And at around 45 minutes of running one day, something changed. I felt in the back base of my head a pressure being released into my brain and the pain start to suppress. The pressure on my eyes, which I didn’t even realize I had, relaxed. And my body felt at ease and in rhythm. I felt like I could run forever at this pace. And, after meeting up with everyone else, I did.
I was high on endorphins and euphoric. And it was fantastic. I was in flow. I was in peace. I was in meditation. I was observing my thoughts and watching myself.
That rush of endorphins streaming through my body that day made me a runner. Finding flow made me feel a sense of belonging to the solitary life of a runner. Running 8+ miles a day gave me peace. It was no longer about the competition. It was no longer about the PRs (though I still measured them.) It was about the flow.
So, as Forest Gump said, “I just kept on running.”