I was recently inspired by Running Around the Bend’s personal history of running and thought I would share my own.
As a kid, I never thought much about exercise. I had an older brother and young parents (I swear I remember my mother’s 28th birthday). We lived in Vermont, so in winter we played in the snow and skied, and in the summer we played on our boat on Lake Champlain. I think I learned to water ski when I was about 8. I never thought about fitness or diet — I was just active.
In middle school in the early 1980s, “aerobic dance” was the craze of the day. My mother went to classes at the local school, and did Jane Fonda workout videos at home. I did them too, and that was my introduction to exercise for fitness’ sake.
Running was still not a mainstream thing, and people in our neighborhood who ran seemed to do so in the cover of darkness, before anyone else was awake.
When I started high school, my best friend, who was a cross-country skier, suggested we try going out for the cross-country running team in the fall. It would be good training for our winter sports, a concept to which I’d never really given any thought. I had never run except to play tag, but I liked the idea of running on trails — it was fun and my young legs had plenty of bounce to make hopping over muddy spots and skipping over rocks easy. My first pair of running shoes were Asics, an all-leather version called “Tigers”, I think. They weighed about 3 lbs each and didn’t do much to make me faster!
Our running coach was pretty serious, and we had some gifted runners on our little team. We won the state championship more than once (although I was actually one of the slowest runners on the team and never really broke into competing on that level), and put in impressive performances at the New England regional meets. I had a subscription to Runner’s World magazine and our bathroom at home was constantly draped with drying running gear. It was during those years that I developed the feeling that I was a runner, no matter what my speed.
Each day the anticipation of a tough practice would loom large in my thoughts, and a knot would build in my stomach knowing that no matter what practice held for us that day, it was going to hurt. A typical practice might include 1/4 mile hill repeats, or mile repeats alternating a mile on the track and a mile on the course. Looking back, it is no wonder our team was so good. Our coach trained us like we were destined for the Olympics.
In spite of being a slower runner (and by slower, I mean at that time I was consistently running 7:30 miles! Now I wouldn’t think that was slow at all :)), I stayed on our cross-country team for all four years in high school, two years longer than my friend who got me into it in the first place. I’ve have a propensity for sticking with things I’m not particularly good at. I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere.
When I graduated from high school I left running behind for a time. My college years were a challenge. I overloaded myself with tough courses (Russian? Really?? What was I thinking?? It’s not like I was ever going to be an ambassador!). And then proceeded to blow them off in favor of hanging out partying with a variety of friends that really didn’t suit me… It’s no wonder I don’t really keep in touch with anyone from those days. I gained weight, got a little depressed, and often acted like a bit of a psycho.
It took me a while to make the connection between my mental well-being and physical activity, but every so often I would go on a bit of a health kick. I slowly started to realize how much better exercise made me feel. That exercise was usually running.
When I look back at my early running years, it is amazing how little stamina I had. Going for a run during those years generally meant 2-3 miles, and that felt like plenty. As college went on, I started hiking too. There are so many great day hikes in the Green Mountains of Vermont, and there is something about spending the whole day just walking that is, well, cleansing. I think those long hikes helped me appreciate longer, slower forms of exercise, and over those years, my stamina grew.
My summers were active, but the school years, especially once winter set in, were rough. During those years of shifting friendships, struggling to grow into who I would be as an adult, I went through several periods of inactivity and serious unhealthiness. I smoked, hung out in bars, and generally didn’t take very good care of myself. By the time I graduated from college in 1993 in my early 20s, I was not in great shape.
The year after college was pivotal for me. More on that another time!