The beginning of my life as a runner started quietly.
I remember, first, what I wore – because I am a girl, and I’m also a visual person. When I picture myself running back then, I see the clothes – and the location.
I was five feet, eight inches. I probably weighed about 245 pounds. I had dorky, wire-rimmed glasses, and chin-length blonde hair.
I bought a $45 pair of Saucony running shoes that were on sale at Sports Authority, because I knew they were good shoes, and they were cute. I couldn’t fit in any “running clothes”, so I bought a pair of men’s running shorts (the bicycle kind). They were blue (Brooks, how do I remember that?), and I wore them under a pair of basketball shorts – blue, mesh Champions, women’s.
The one and only bra I had was called “The Frog Bra” from Title 9 sports. It was a heavy-duty lycra bra that smashed me down into one piece, and to this day, it remains my favorite bra. (If I hadn’t broken my shoulder in a bike accident in 2003, I’d still be wearing it, but that put an end to all my “over the head” attire.)
In those days, I’d come home from school or work, and, annoyed with my roommate, I’d run to get out of the house. Out the door, down the street, and over the Chicago River, one thing was always constant: the first mile was a blur.
Back then, I was a runner, pure and simple. I didn’t do a run/walk program, but I’m sure I walked. I don’t remember running for time, but I’m sure I was limited by it.
But what I do remember is that the first mile was always full of energy because I was so glad to be out of the apartment, away from work, away from school. I was always energized, and excited, and I know I ran too fast, too hard. Back then, I was running because I needed to run. I needed an outlet from the pressure cooker of law school, and life. Of having little money, few friends, and an unsure future.
But even with all that energy to burn, I was aware that I was a young woman, running alone on the streets of Chicago. As a new runner, I was always scared that I’d get too far from home, and be too tired to come back, so I devised a system, of running in four mile radius around my house. I would never go more than one mile South, North, East, or West of my building – figuring that, even if I ended up gimpy (or otherwise in trouble), I could get back without too much work.
I also never left the house without my license, and $10 – just enough cash to get me home (in case I really got hurt.)
I also ran in the nice neighborhoods, with lawns and upstanding neighbors. (Ravenswood Manor, for those who know Chicago.) Over the river was a gorgeous land of single family homes, and I could always run on the sidewalk and streets, and feel safe. At night, closer to home, I’d run in the street, because someone once told me that you were more likely to see an attacker coming from behind a parked car if you were running in the streets, as opposed to the sidewalk. (I’m not sure that made ANY sense, but I still do it today).
And even with all the Safety Dance routines in my head, on those first runs, I remember coming home drained. Exhausted. Exhilerated. Relaxed. My cotton tee shirt soaked; my hair plastered to my forehead. I ran hard, and I ran often. But every time, I felt better.
In the intervening ten years, running has become less about getting away from things – and more about accomplishing objectives. It’s been a great outlet for me, but there are times when I wish I was a new runner again – all joy and pent-up energy, hitting the ground without really caring how far, or how long, I go.
Recently, I’ve had the chance to get some of that joy back, courtesy of some down time between jobs. I’ve been running less distance (no more than 5 miles) and enjoying the scenery more. And you know what? It’s working. For those of you who’ve run long, often – and even for those of you who haven’t run in awhile – I’d encourage you to leave your watch at home, and head out the door. Channel the energy and enthusiasm of a newbie, and give yourself the “nice job” you gave yourself when you first started doing this.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that your New Runner is still there, just waiting to come out and play.