Monday, September 29, 2014

20 years of running

Through the years, a lot of people have asked me how I started out as a runner. Well here's my story:

It was 20 years ago this month, in September, that I ran my first competitive race as a middle school cross-country runner. I had always played little-kid soccer while in elementary school, where my dad was our coach and a lot of my grade school friends were on the team. It was actually because of soccer when I first heard about cross-country.

In the early 90's, my dad took the team to watch a high school soccer game at Maranacook Community School (my future high school) so we could watch the big kids play soccer and maybe learn something. It was during the game when a bunch of people ran out of the woods covered head to toe in mud. They didn't say a word while running to the top of the hill that overlooked the soccer field. There were whispers and chatters about who these people were and what they were doing. Come to find out it was the infamous Maranacook cross-country team, a team that would go on to win six state championships in the 90's after winning a bunch in the 80's. They were doing their traditional mud run, something I would come to learn all about years later.

Me, second from the left after winning the
1997 conference cross-country meet during
my sophomore year

Running was always enjoyable and seemed to come naturally to me, too. At age 10 or 11, I remember being bored at my babysitter's house one day so I decided to see how many times I could run around her house without stopping. It was a pretty big house with a hill in the front yard, so it provided a good challenge. I ran it 76 times (not sure why I remember that number) before calling it quits.

Another childhood memory of running was the 4th of July tradition we had at our house. My brother and I would light sparklers and then see how far we could run before the sparklers died out. There was always the added challenge of trying to outrun our dog too.

As middle school approached I decided I didn't want to play soccer. I wasn't all that good (the only goal I remember scoring was for the other team, although my dad disputes this to this day) and wanted to try something new. I thought about the cross-country team and, at the time, thought that cross-country literally meant running across the country. For some reason this absolutely fascinated me.

So I signed up for the middle school team, beginning what ultimately would turn into a true love of the sport. I ran two years in middle school and four years of high school. I can honestly say that being a part of that high school team was crucial to my growing up. Through running on that team I learned all about discipline, commitment, hard work, winning, and losing. Those are life lessons I'll carry with me until the day I die.
Class B XC State Championship, 1999

My high school career was good as I was captain of the cross-country and track teams my senior year. I had a decent senior year in cross-country but a non-existent senior year in track due to mono. This was devastating to me as I wasn't able to compete much at all, which was incredibly disappointing after coming off a solid junior track season that saw me running a personal best 4:48 1600 meters. There was some potential there, but I felt like I'd never see it through.

As my high school career came to a close, I was recruited to run by a couple of small colleges here in Maine. I opted not to run in college, deciding instead on a bigger school in UMaine Orono where I would undoubtedly meet a lot more people and have more of a social life than if I had decided on one of the smaller schools.

So I basically took the next seven years off from running. Sure I'd go for a run here and there in college and afterwards, but I never put in the kind of work or commitment it takes to be good at it. I had run a lot of miles in high school and figured my legs and body needed a break, even if it meant a permanent one.

After college, I had through hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2005 (not running, but hiking across the country...kind of), moved to Colorado in February 2006, then back to Maine in October 2006. After moving back to Maine, I was throwing a football around with some old high school buddies, Josh and Lincoln, when for some reason we started talking about the Boston Marathon. Still not sure why to this day, we decided then and there that the three of us would run Boston in 2007. We didn't know anything about the marathon other than it was 26.2 miles, it had a hill called Heartbreak Hill, it was in April, and it might be fun.

So my running career was reborn again, sort of. I trained, kind of, through that winter and early spring. I'd average 4-6 miles around Portland, with my longest training running being 9 miles on a treadmill at Planet Fitness. My weekly average might have been 25-30 miles, maybe.

Boston painfully came and painfully went. We weren't able to walk right for days after that debacle. However, I finished in a modestly unofficial 3:36:35, with Josh coming in around 4 hours and Lincoln, who didn't train at all by the way, around 4:30.

This sparked something in me. I started casually running again, then, in 2009, started running in local road races and trail races. I'd struggle mightily compared to where I had been, but I stuck with it and was back out there nonetheless.

Competing in the 5k at Corporate Nationals in July 2014
That was only five years ago. Through discipline, commitment, and hard work--the same things Maranacook cross-country had taught me all those years ago--I have started coaching cross-country and track and field at a local high school, joined Dirigo, which is Maine's elite running club, joined Unum's corporate track team, and continued to pound away on the pavement and trails. I've found new ways to challenge myself, such as running 30 miles on my 30th birthday, running 31 5ks during my 31st year of life, and by running everything from a 400 on the track to a marathon on the coast of Maine.

Most people slow down when they get older. I prefer the opposite. I'd rather speed up, get better, faster, and stronger. I want to be running PR's into my 40's and beyond.

Anyone can do this if they choose.

People have often asked me what I'm going to do for a "crazy" challenge to myself this year. Honestly, I don't know. 20 years since I first ran competitively is a big deal to me.

I may try to qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon. Maybe I'll try to PR in the 10k and/or half marathon. Perhaps I'll competitively run a Spartan Race. Or maybe I'll be content on winning a State and National championship with Team Unum.

Regardless, here's to at least 20 more years of running!

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