Run Free!

I would hesitate to call myself a runner in the same way I would hesitate to label myself as anything else, I suppose. I like running, both the process and the results. I enjoy it the same way I enjoy hiking, or reading books, or riding bicycles. It’s something I do on a regular basis, something positive and rewarding. Running isn’t my life, but over the past several years it’s become a significant part of my life.

For most of that life, however, I never liked running. Couldn’t stand it, in fact, but would give it a shot once in a while intuiting that it might somehow be worth the effort. In high school I would trot out an occasional few miles with the newly formed cross country team, but having no mentors and limited motivation we did a lot more walking and complaining than training or competing. During my four years in the Army I ran consistently. Almost every day in fact, having no real choice about it. And while I appreciated the requisite fitness, I could never claim to enjoy the activity. Running was hard and tedious, often painful and downright unpleasant most of the time. And, while I excelled at the military’s other physical requirements, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, obtaining top scores on the physical fitness test’s two-mile run was always a few seconds away from my labored efforts. Years after leaving the service, I would sporadically try to get back into running, or, more accurately, to get into running in the first place, but, until recently, those attempts were largely unsuccessful. I simply couldn’t ever find the love for it.

What changed? It’s hard to say. A few years back now I decided to give it another go and all of the sudden (but not really) running came to represent a strong sense of freedom in my life. I’ve grown to appreciate it on multiple levels. I love the activity itself, the movement involved, the deeply physical nature of the process. It is the body shining to its fullest, everything operating together at max capacity. Nothing else provides even close to the same cardio as running. Nothing. I love the discipline required, both the inspiration needed to go running on a regular basis, and the self-motivation necessary to push oneself throughout a run. I love having something to look forward to, and something to relish afterwards. A run might sometimes be the hardest part of the day, but that’s what makes it so special. The discomfort, finding the incentive to start running and the fortitude to keep running once you’re in motion. I love the results, both immediate and long term. Six months of dedicated running produces noticeable physical transformations; give it a year and the outcomes prove substantial. Yes, months, years, not days. I love it because it’s not easy. And I love running because it can be exceptionally fun. I love it for the aforementioned freedom I feel every time I get to run somewhere new, or start off on one of my favorite trails for the fiftieth time. I love running as a form of exploration. Love going miles on remote trails in random locations, love discovering parks and neighborhoods, the downtowns of unfamiliar cities.

As I mentioned in the beginning, however, I still waver at calling myself a runner. I’m not obsessed with running, I’m simply engaged in a regular practice that inspires me. But assuming that if one runs, one is a runner, what kind of runner might I be? That is, how do I run, where, how long, how fast, how often? If I’m writing about running, full disclosure seems appropriate. The basics would be something like this: I generally run every other day, usually about 40 minutes to an hour, or 5-8 miles each run. It’s what works at the moment. I try not to overdo it in an effort to avoid boredom and injury. The average pace is around 8 minutes a mile, maybe a bit faster on pavement, a tad slower on some trails. I love running by myself, and I enjoy running with others when the opportunity presents itself. I run a lot with Erin, who was a high-school cross country star (back in the day…). We run at about the same pace, and switch out the lead every ten minutes or so. I try to avoid running on concrete, or anywhere with lots of cars, but I enjoy taking random routes across densely populated urban zones, and make it a point to check out bigger parks anytime I’ve visiting a metropolitan area. Above all, I love running on dirt roads, on beaches, and, more than anything, on trails. Trails in the mountains, in the desert, across open spaces, through dense forests, whatever. Up hills, down hills, back and forth across streams, along ridges, through valleys, over mountain passes… It’s all good.

As far as running events go, over the past couple years I have entered a few 5ks and 10ks, a couple half-marathons, one 30k trail run in the Big Bend. I would probably participate in a few more of these runs if the proceeds from the hefty entrance fees went to a good cause rather than to the race organizers, but I don’t really need events, dates, or external goals as motivation. As I’ve said, I just like what running does for me right now. I might not always feel the same way, but for as long as I do, I’ll keep doing it.

In the few years that I’ve been fostering this appreciation for running, I’ve been fortunate to have had opportunities to run in myriad places and environments. And running has been an excellent medium for exploration in all of them, from Argentina to Alaska across cities and countrysides alike. No matter where I’m at, I try to keep with the program, and constantly seek out prospects for interesting routes. It’s not my intention to provide a runner’s guide to any of these places, just to provide a few reports of some of the best runs that I’ve stumbled across (literally, at times) along the way. Please emulate and enjoy.

Run Big Bend!

Run Tennessee!

Run Alaska! (and Canada…)