In It For the Long Run

It was a few weeks after my college graduation that I found myself laying on the couch in the middle of the afternoon, deep in the midst of the inevitable post-graduation haze. Unlike the majority, college was not an easy ride for me. Already a young-soul as it is, the pressure of having an answer to what I wanted to do with my life at the ripe age of 21, weighed on me more than I ever could have imagined. Those four years played out in front of me like a never-ending road full of twists, turns and steep hills; somehow keeping myself on course not knowing when or where my finish line would be.

I remember staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen as I once again spent the afternoon perfecting my bleak and desperate resume. My thoughts were interrupted when my phone lit up with an incoming call from my Dad.

“I just signed you up for the Chicago Marathon in October. Better start running.”

I immediately started laughing. Yeah, right. The last time I consistently ran more than a mile was the horrid, required run in the 7th grade that I avoided and dreaded like the plague. Granted, I had played basketball every day of my life up until my senior year of high school, but that was four years in the past and the most exercise I had gotten since was spending 10 minutes on the elliptical every few weeks before heading to a frat house to drink some watered down beer for dinner.

I imagined myself awkwardly standing at the starting line surrounded by rail-thin runners wearing shorts that could be considered underwear and the sun setting on empty streets as I crawled past mile 3.

At that point, even driving 26.2 miles seemed a little bit out of line.

After hanging up and realizing that, no, my Dad wasn’t joking, I turned my eyes back to that blinking cursor on my screen--still in the same spot, accurately symbolizing my boring, stagnant and unmotivated life at the time. It was a few minutes later that I came to the harsh realization that I had spent the past few years digging myself into a hole full of insecurity and self-doubt. Finding comfort in things and decisions that only weighed me down.

I sat there and proposed a question to myself that I should have been asking years ago—Why not me? Why couldn’t I?

So, I did the only thing I knew to do at that time—and that was to start.

Soon enough, blocks turned to miles, days turned to months and before I knew it, I was running over 40 miles a week-- Chicago’s lake front trail becoming my sanctuary and home away from home. With each completed mile, my life was changing--mentally and physically propelling me into a person I had no idea was begging and waiting for me in the distance for all those years.

Life has a funny way of convincing people to back off or quit when the going gets tough. Running is the force in my life that reminds me to ignore that voice; to push through, no matter how much easier it would be to just quit.

What I’ve learned is that running never takes more than it gives back. With each run, I am given peace of mind and a sense of confidence I never knew existed. What I’ve learned is that you can keep going, long after you think you can’t (believe me). I’ve learned that if you embrace the suck and keep moving forward, you will eventually reach the finish line. Running has taught me to fall in love with taking care of myself—mind, body and spirit. That everything you could ever need is already inside you, you just need to start.

The magic in running isn’t in the medal you get as you cross the finish line. It’s in the early mornings, blistering hot afternoons and nearly 500 miles of training that happens months prior. It’s in the endless array of feelings, frustrations and fears that you work through while putting one foot in front of the other, mile after mile, each and every day. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would become a runner. But as I countdown the days to my 6th Chicago Marathon, I realize I am. And my life is better because I chose to be one.