Friday, October 14, 2011

Once upon a runner

I was about to write a post about how I was having a bad day. A tired, worn out, didn't do what I had planned to do kind of day. But then, instead, I decided that I have already been there and done that, and I can have a change of plan day without having to talk myself through it. I have come a long way and made great strides with cutting myself some slack and not beating myself up when I am doing the right thing and listening to my body. Its not like I took the day off to watch soap operas and eat bon bons- I ran 13 miles today, did a hard gym workout with my trainer; that's just not what I had envisioned starting out.

Instead, I'd rather take the opportunity to look back and celebrate how far I have come as a runner.

Nervous smile before my first marathon: Edinburgh Marathon 2005

I often site my introduction to long distance running as the Edinburgh Marathon 2005. It was, in fact, my first marathon and the tipping point of running as a primary focus in my life. However, it was not the beginning of my running career, I think it was simply the point in time when I began to see myself as a runner.

I was never a competitive runner in high school. I did one season of track and pretty much just floundered around running everything from the 100m to the 800m. When I wasn't false-starting in the 800, I was actually pretty good and made 2nd team All-City. However,  I was just not that into track. And somehow I never got connected with the cross country team. 

While I didn't run track or cross country in high school, I did adore running. I ran and ran and ran. When I played soccer, my favorite part of the day was when we would do laps around 5 adjoining soccer fields and I would run my head off until I lapped the entire team, even the coach couldn't catch me. They called my "Gump" and I utilized my talent for running in soccer my freshman year (and all of grade school before that). The summer before my sophomore year in high school, my sister and I signed up for a local 10k (the Swedish Summer Run) and I had a blast running through the streets near my house. I was so proud of running such a "far" distance. I was so proud in fact that I signed up for the Super Jock and Jill Half marathon that September. I ran that untrained and underprepared and I can remember that 13.1 miles seemed so incredibly far to me. I finished that race in about 1:56. And I don't think I ever really stopped running after that.

The rest of my sophomore year, I ran to train for basketball (which was my sole focus then). I ran to vent my emotions and feelings. I would do endless loops around Green Lake during my sister's soccer games, trying to see how many I could get before her games ended. I never thought about racing or any sort of more formal running, as I saw myself as "just" a basketball player, but I definitely loved to run. It is amazing to me to think back on it now- then, running was just the simple act of running. I never worried about mileage or splits or times or races. I just ran and ran until I was tired or done and then I would stop. I loved it.

My junior and senior year, I did a lot of speed work at the track with my basketball teammates. And I spent a lot of time running a loop I called the "I hate you so much right now" loop ( watch the video here if you don't know what I am referring to)- it was a way I dealt with the things I was going through, it was about 9 miles and by the time I was done with the killer hilly loop, I would be numb.

When I gave up basketball in 2001, I pretty much collapsed in exhaustion and didn't do much physical activity routinely. I had been working out 8-10 hours a day for the better part of 4 years and I just needed to recover. I would occasionally go to the gym or go for a string of runs, but I didn't do anything routine.

In 2003, I went to South Africa as a part of a study abroad program. There, I not only reconnected with basketball through coaching with Hoops 4 Hope, I found running again. When I arrived there, two of my roommates asked if I wanted to join them for regular morning runs. We slowly built our mileage and better yet, signed up for the Cape Town Half marathon. We successfully completed that race and I was hooked. I returned to the states and started running everyday with my sister. I would run from my house in the Univ. District to Green Lake where we'd meet up and then we'd run around the lake and back up north to where my mom lived. We did the same loop, day in, day out, (except weekends when we'd branch out a bit) but I loved it. I can credit these daily runs with truly putting me in the habit of running again. I also can say that these runs went a long way in rebuilding my sister and my relationship, which had been very tempestuous until that point. Now, she is my best friend (not to mention someone I admire greatly)- each step we took, made that possible. We ran our first half marathon together September 2003 and I knocked my time down to 1:46:10.

By the time I moved to Pittsburgh at the end of the year, I was pondering a marathon. I had always been an all in type of person when it came to sports, self-made and attracted to big challenges, so a marathon seemed natural to me. I didn't know anything about training for a marathon or even signing up for one, so I just started running more and more- in any weather, temperature or time of night. I didn't have a car in Pittsburgh for my first 6 months, and I was know to even run home from the bar on occasion.

I graduated from grad school, moved to London, brining my running habit with me. I ran all over London, saw many places I wouldn't have otherwise discovered and learned that I can be fearless and resilient. I did endless loops around Hyde Park and along the river. In June of 2005, I finally got my chance at the marathon. I ran Edinburgh Marathon in 3:38 and was a complete rookie. I didn't take gels, I didn't have any idea how to pace myself. I just went out and ran. I didn't even know what a Boston qualifying time was, let alone the fact that I had made it in my first try. I just remember feeling like I was going to die trying to get to that finish line and then crossing it only to think "I HAVE TO DO THAT AGAIN!". And so it began.

From there, my nature took the reins. I was a self-made basketball player. I took what slice of talent I had and worked and worked and practiced and practiced until I was a great basketball player. And so, naturally I was the same way with running. I became a student of running. I immersed myself in training manuals, read everything I could and started to focus on learning how to be a runner. I never imagined that 6 years later I would be on my way to the Olympic Trials in the marathon, hold numerous course records in ultras and have two national championships. 

What it comes down to on the most basic level, I realize, is that I love to run. I want to run for many many years to come. I don't care if that means racing, placing or simply just putting on my shoes and going. Running has woven itself into the fabric of who I am. It is not who I am, but it is a part of me. And I love that and I celebrate how far I have come and how many more miles are yet to come.

2 comments:

  1. Great post Devon, and I'm proud to have known you since that first marathon. I think those of us who run often take for granted that we have something healthy (and a lot of fun) in our lives, when most simply do not. We're lucky.

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  2. Great story and loved the photos of you back in your early running days. I'm so excited for you at the Olympic Trials!

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