Why do you run: to lose weight, to improve fitness, to compete, or just to kill time? Running can be a brutal pounding, and mentally it’s often about choosing discomfort over comfort, and what about those super short shorts? For me, I ran for 18 years before I ever really liked it.
My earliest memories of running are Mom honking the horn and calling me in from a day of adventure on my Granddaddy’s 65-acre farm. At 9 years old, I ran everywhere across the red Georgia clay. I ran to my Uncles to feed the animals, ran to the spring, and ran to my dirt basketball court. I rarely ever walked and basically I ran just to get me from one place to another.
I then started developing my inner sprinter due to fear. Some evenings I would hang out too long watching the Braves lose with the only highlight being a Dale Murphy base hit. Then I would have to run the 200 yards from my Grandmothers to our doublewide trailer. There were these trees down a fence line that would creak and pop in the southern breeze pulling on the fence. In the middle there was one group of menacing bushes where the cows had wallowed out perfect holes to hide and ambush your enemy. I never timed those sprints but there were a couple where I would have given Carl Lewis a run for his money.
Also having a brother who was eight years older and could run a sub 6-second 50-yard dash created another need for speed. One day we were flying kites in the big field and mine flew so high I ran out of string while my brother’s obviously had issues. Initially, I took joy in out preforming him but as the day moved on his frustration grew, as did my confidence in talking trash. I really don’t remember the final straw that broke his back but I saw him take those 1st powerful steps coming out of his start position toward me and I abandoned the best kite I ever had and hit the nitrous button toward the fence line. He was closing fast and this 7th grader had a bush wire fence with 2 rows of barbwire standing between him and freedom. I still believe an angel lifted me over as I cleared in a hurdle with out missing a stride.
Fortunately, I won these fear driven races as a kid but never really considered running for fun or to compete. As a junior in high school, I joined my two friends to causally participate with the other 3 or 4 members of my track team. The Coaches’ highly strategic plan for the three distance guys was to run the block a few times a week after school. I ran that entire 1st year (~3 home meets) in Magic Johnson high tops. I had tapped into the community of it and enjoyed competing. Senior year, my workouts were the same loop with lighter shoes. I would occasionally run the 2 miles home from school, and even started to time myself running the 1-mile to and from my nearest classmates house. This season, Coach drug me a shot putter and a triple jumper to an off campus meet. I did not realize until after, that I was at the state meet and was ultimately humbled by the level of competition.
After high school, I enlisted in the US Army where running was a part of everyday life. You had to be fit enough to meet certain requirements on your PT test and you were even encouraged if you did well or showed talent. In Ft Lee Virginia I was forced to participate on a running team based on my PT Test results. It was the perfect environment for improvement: good men to train with, 3 square meals a day, an awesome leader to motivate us, and very few distractions. This pricked my completive juices as I finished 2nd overall in that Petersburg Battlefield (my initial) 5k race and led our team to the team championship, beating the Marines.
As I transitioned to my regular Army assignment, the trend of forced running continued and was pushed to join, Olympic qualifying, Coach Bob Miller on another team where I continued to experience exponential improvement. I ran some fun events with great men and enjoyed the attention and privileges of success. I was now officially a runner but was still convinced that I could get the same positive feelings from other sports or events.
I took this running foundation after the Gulf War to the University of West Georgia where I chose to join the cross-country team with the intention to get additional financial support to partner with my GI Bill. I ran with some very accomplished runners. We competed versus teams from all across the country, created many indelible memories while beating a ton of my favorite ACC and SEC schools and won 3 Gulf South Championships. I loved the comradery of team but the distractions of college life, my general immaturity and lack of passion for the sport equaled 4 years of lack luster personal performance and often running my best times in the off season.
After graduation, I ran occasionally to keep fit mentally and physically, setting a few goals here and there to keep it interesting. It was in Charlotte, NC training for a marathon where I first noticed something different. God started interrupting my runs with an ongoing conversation. Admittedly I had encountered God before on runs like during the Army Ten Miler where the beauty and awe of his creation as running around the Potomac made me “lose” miles, or while following a huge white owl several evenings around a small Florida town several evenings at dusk, or the many runs where my willingness to create “suicide pace” would regularly require the prayer, or simply those days where it was just “please let me make it to the bathroom.” But this was different. I was running my best times for this distance but felt as if that was secondary to each step acting as a new sense of self-awareness, a meditative clarity coming from a greater connection to my Creator.
That October, I broke 2 vertebras in my back and never got to run that marathon in my prime. Life happens: marriage, a 70+-hour workweek career that took us to 4 states, then 2 little beauties added to our tribe and running takes a backseat. I am now 46 and have been running again for 4 years and despite the injuries (blew my achilles 6 months ago), extra pounds, and general challenges of life, I now don’t just like to run. I need to run for mental health and physical fitness. I love to run to challenge myself and more importantly, to connect with my Creator.
If your story is like mine you may have started to run for the physical benefits but will quickly discover many other rewards in the social or even spiritual areas of your life. So grab your shoes lace them up and start by putting one foot in front of the other. You may surprise yourself by what you find out there on the road.