Why Do I Like Running? Pt. 1
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
I feel like telling a story. It’s boring and personal, and not really much of a story, actually. It’s more a series of reflections on my part, brought on by the question “why do I like running?” It's a little hard to put a finger on the answer to that question. Until the last couple of years, I never liked to run. Sure, I liked to run when it was part of some game or sport, but I never liked the sport of running itself.
So what has changed? What’s different for me now on the cusp of 51 that wasn't true in my 30s, 20s or even high school days? Pondering this question got me to thinking about my high school cross country experience and how my relationship with running has changed over the years. Maybe publishing my running memoirs will help uncover the answer.
Until the start of my sophomore year in high school, way back in September 1976, I don’t think I ever ran farther than one mile non-stop. I ran the 440 and 100 yard low hurdles in track in 8th and 9th grade, but I can’t remember every having to or trying to run more than a mile up to then. The Mile was a part of the annual Presidential Physical Fitness Test. I know that it still is because my son moans about have to practice for it in P.E. class every couple of weeks. I don’t ever remember “practicing,” but I do remember those annual tests. Up to then , the mile was my pinnacle of “distance running.”
Once I started playing tennis and came under the tutelage of a coach, I was subjected to more mile run training when we’d have to run laps around the courts complex at the end of practice. I never loafed, but I hated doing them. I enjoyed the wind sprints and shuttle races on the courts more. Even though they were more exhausting, they felt more like a game than the drudgery of laps.
I’d never even heard of the sport of Cross Country until a friend of mine, at the very start of our sophomore year, asked me if I wanted to go out for cross country with him. “Sure…uh…what’s cross country?” The way he made it sound, or at least the way I interpreted it, I thought we’d be jumping logs and fording streams, like some over-hill-and-dale obstacle course. Actually, I think I had steeple-chasing in mind, which I’d seen on Wild World of Sports on TV. I was intrigued by that kind of “adventure” sport, so that afternoon the two of us showed up, along with about 20 others guys (and a couple of girls), for “try-outs.”
It wasn’t really a try-out since no one got actually was ever cut from the cross country team. If you wanted to run and were willing to attend the practices, you were part of the team. The only cut was who received uniforms (sweats and singlet) and who travelled to the Away meets. Only the top 12 suited up. Of course, I didn’t want to just participate. I wanted to be in amongst the top 12.
On that first day of practice, I met Coach B and after he introduced us newbies to what cross country was all about and how the team operated, he sent us out on a 2-mile shakedown run. There were no obstacles I disappointedly discovered. It was a just an out-and-in 2-mile course through the neighborhood and city streets, from the school grounds and back. I ran in tennis shoes and gym shorts, coveting the specialized running shoes of the veteran jocks. For the run, I just kept up with the group as best I could, and I think I did alright for someone who had never run 2 miles continuously before. I wouldn’t say it was exhilarating or even all that fun. I was gasping for air by the end, having tried to race my way into the top 12.
The funny thing was that the very next practice session, my friend, Thomas – the one who had cajoled me into going out for the team in the first place – didn’t show up. I caught up with him the next day and asked him what happened. He told me, sheepishly, that he’d changed his mind. “Too hard,” he said. I could understand why it wasn’t his cup of tea. It wasn’t really mine either, what without the obstacles and orienteering that I had imagined would be a part of the sport. But I reasoned that I didn’t have a sport to do during the Fall semester, so what the heck? It would be good conditioning and help my stamina for other sports. Plus, I liked being part of the team and I felt good about being in the top 12.
Next: Cross Country Rookie