Friday, April 8, 2011

Running Origins

This post is about how I started running. Although particulars are mine, I'm sure it's a more universal story about how I more or less fell into running by circumstance, rather than design. Sometimes, good things just come your way. Running happens.

Going back to the beginning, I'm someone who never ran.

Runners were skinny and just seemed to have some sort of ineffable natural ability that I didn't have. I ran as a kid in community track around age 10-11, but not after that, except to catch a baseball or football.

I biked during college - everywhere, and obsessively. Thankfully that kept me in shape for a while.

Fast-forward 15 years to 1999, and I was 37 and still had never run more than 1/4 mile in my life. If you looked at me I was fit in appearance, but I was totally out of shape.

Source: Wikimedia, author: Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Fatefully, that year my company decided to enter the local Chase Corporate Challenge in Buffalo, which was essentially a 5k. I was going to walk the whole thing, but once we got going and I saw grandmas and children jogging, I was shamed into trying it myself, and ended up running about half of it, alternating between some pretty weak jogging, and walking.

I didn't want to get grandma-ed in a 5k.

That was the spark, when I realized I could actually run. It wasn't some sort of exclusive magic, it was just a skill, like any other.

I started running regularly after that (that week I think), beginning with about 2/10 mile at a time, with recovery in between. Heh. We're talking humble beginnings here. A quarter-mile would leave me gasping, almost nauseous.

Upstate New York where I lived was flat as a pancake. By coincidence, I ended up living near a great bike path in Amherst north of Buffalo.

I spent countless hours on this path, and basically learned to run there. That path is a gem, not only to me, but to the countless people who also spent happy hours there.

If it looks flat, that's because Amherst is essentially a floodplain and/or wetland where the water flow has been controlled and channeled into ponds so houses can be built. But this also added interest, from the creek, the animals, the plants, everything. It was different at all seasons and times of day. It was fantastic.

At first, my body was just not accustomed to the act of running. I literally had to learn to run. When I started, my left foot was so weak my foot flopped after about 1/2 mile. It didn't make much of a noticeable slapping sound, but it was definitely not on par with my right foot. My left shin would cramp, that's how bad it was.

Since this path was only a mile from where I lived, and I had cheap access to the facilities at the University at Buffalo during the winter, I was able to run year-round and progressed slowly, on my own non-spectacular schedule.

By the time I moved to Colorado in 2006, I had a good base of conditioning and a few years of running under my belt, so the altitude adjustment was quicker than I anticipated. I started out hiking some trails when I got here, but pretty soon gave that up and just started running everything. If you can, why not do it?

I've pretty much been running dirt trails since then, but have branched out a bit this winter and will run streets and sidewalks if I'm short on time. Plus, frankly I like running in the neighborhood, right out my front door.

I remember when I was living in the east I heard about the Pikes Peak Marathon, and thought it must be for masochist nut jobs. But gradually I morphed into one of those crazies myself, to the point that running a 14,000-foot peak is just a fun thing to do on weekends.

Longs Peak from the Chasm Lake Trail

But the cool thing about that is not only running the peak, but discovering what this means about life and yourself: that you don't necessarily know the limits of what you can do, so you should never limit yourself in advance and say you can't do it.

After all, every runner was "not a runner" at some point.


  1. "...running a 14,000-foot peak is just a fun thing to do on weekends..."

    And typical to Colorado, the question then might be - really, that is all you did this weekend?

  2. GZ - Lol. Sorry, I forgot to add "... before breakfast."

  3. Thanks for sharing your story - and all of your running experiences! I've completed only 2 5k's in the last 3 years, and never ran before that - ever. I am, however, inspired by your posts to try to improve my running skills such as they are.

  4. Lynne - Thanks, and good job on the races. I'm glad you're enjoying the posts.

  5. Your story sounds very similar to mine. Looks we were born the same year, and I just started running about 5 years ago. Between raising 3 sons and a heavy workload, I just never have been able to find the time to do the hiking I want to do (mostly fourteeners). I can run a trail every weekend whereas a peak takes all day - for me anyway. But last year I found trail running. I still don't enjoy road but do it just cause I have to do SOMETHING. I will be a copy cat to Lynne and say thanks for the blog - I enjoy it.

  6. jchrysler - Thanks, glad you enjoy the blog.

    If you're lucky enough to have a fairly quiet neighborhood to run streets/roads, it can be pretty mellow, especially early and late.

    As you suggest, part of the attraction -- to me -- of running is the simplicity. Just lace up and go. Well, lace up, get the camera, start the GPS and go.