Why running is so important to me

As you may already know (if you read my info page) I started running when I went to college for lacrosse. I was a pudgy high school kid who lucked out with an opportunity to play for a Division II school. I was terrified that I was going to get there and be totally unprepared for practices, games, and conditioning...So I decided to start running.

What I didn't know was...well anything about running. But also, that it took more than 6 weeks to build up a strong aerobic base. So I got to college and, lo and behold, I was out of shape and unprepared! I was weak, I had no endurance, and I was slow...perfect combination for a competitive athlete.

After that brutal wake up call, I got in shape, not just through running but a combination of distance running, weight lifting, sprints, and playing lacrosse for hours on end. I ended up being a starter and captain for my team and moving on to coach lacrosse at the college level after I graduated.

Jake and his family posing for a photo at his senior day game

So running got me to where I needed to be. I needed to get in shape, so I ran. The problem was, I kinda hated it...

Now, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you I fell in love with running and it provided all the answers to my fitness questions. My journey with running is messier than that. Like a relationship you know shouldn't work, but you keep trying anyways! Let me paint you a mental picture here...I'm generally between 200-210 pounds. I come from a family that struggles with obesity and (lucky me) I've also inherited those genes. I have to work VERY hard at maintaining a somewhat healthy weight. I'm not one of those runners that you see eating everything in sight and is still as skinny as a rail. When I eat everything in sight, I gain 13 pounds.

So, for a long time I used running as a tool to keep my weight in check. I ran because I didn't want to get fat. I didn't enjoy it, at least not more than lifting weights or doing a spin class; it was just something I HAD to do.

I would always think to myself, yeah, I could drink 15 beers as long as I ran the next day. Yeah, I could eat a whole pizza, as long I ran the next day. Yeah, I could stay up all night snacking and watching movies, as long as I ran the next day...

That all changed for me when I was in grad school. I was coaching lacrosse, earning my MBA, and trying to live the college life. Only, it wasn't working. I was still gaining weight, I wasn't able to recover from workouts, and I just felt like shit.

Now is when you expect the breakthrough moment, the epiphany, the "get-your-life-back-on-track" montage...well, like I said, my running journey is a bit messier than that. It wasn't that black and white for me. I started doing the bad things less and the good things more. And I felt a little better. So I did the bad things even less and the good things even more. And I felt even better. So I just continued to do what I knew was good for me and my body, and in about a year and a half, I barely recognized myself.

I don't mean that I physically didn't recognize myself, I mean I was just such a different person. The decisions I was making were the right ones; they were making me a better person. I vividly remember one day I was getting ready for a run, but I was tired. I had some bad runs over the past few days. I was hurting from some nagging injuries. It was summer in Georgia so it was ridiculously hot and humid. And I just remember looking at myself in my tiny bathroom mirror thinking, "Why? Why am I doing this? You're an adult, no one is making you do this. You make your own decisions. You're not preparing for a race, you have no obligations to a team or anyone else. So, why are you doing it?" And when I asked myself that question it spurred another important question in my life. "Why are you making any of these difficult decisions? Why eat better? Why drink less? Why exercise? Why push yourself this hard?"

Initially my answer was, "I'll get fat if I don't do this." Then I asked myself, "Why do you care if you get fat?" I didn't have the answer, and it kind of scared me. I pulled my running shoes on and went for a run. It was a terrible run. Everything hurt, I was dying from the heat, and I was angry at myself for asking so many hard questions and not having any answers. But as I kept running, I thought...and I thought, and thought, and thought. I listened to my consistent breathing and my footsteps on the ground. I heard the leaves of trees swaying in the wind and the frogs and insects around the creek that I was running next to. And as I ran, I grew less and less angry, to the point where I was actually kind of happy.

It wasn't to keep the weight off, it wasn't stay in shape, it wasn't for Strava (which I don't think even existed at that point), it wasn't for any of those external motivators. It was because I loved running. I loved it. I loved the time it gave me to get in my own head. I loved being outside. I loved being in control. And yeah, I think some twisted part of me liked to see how hard I could push my body. But the bottom line was, I ran because I loved it.

I struggled with that idea for a long time. I thought maybe I just made it up to give myself an easy answer to all those hard questions. But then I injured myself. I rolled my ankle when running through a trail and I couldn't run for over a month. And when, I couldn't run I realized how much I missed it, how much I depended on it, and how badly I needed it in my life.

Since grad school, running has been more of a constant in my life. I've had my ups and downs, and there were some months where I didn't get in more than a few runs. Young kids, a demanding job and a social life kept me very busy for a while.

About 2 years ago I decided I wanted to get serious about running again. So I signed up for a half marathon. I knew that having a goal would motivate me and encourage me to keep up with my training, and it did. After that I signed up a half-Ironman triathlon with an old college friend of mine. It was amazing! It was super fun, extremely challenging, and overwhelmingly satisfying to complete. After that, I completed an Xterra Triathlon with some friends. Now, I'm kinda hooked and searching for my next goal.

Finishing the White Mountain Triathlon with my college friend
I'm in the green shirt

Every week now, I remind myself that it's important to have goals. It's important to compete and continue to push myself through my own mental and physical barriers. But for me, the most important thing is just to keep running.

Start running. Keep running.


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