Tan Lines

Running has been a part of my life for 20 years. So much is it a part of my daily routine that I can’t imagine “Me” without it. Though, when I joined cross-country as a high school freshman, it was to meet boys not for the runners high. I joined with a friend and after the first few practices we both realized it was hard…and we were really bad at it. She quit. I dug in.

Back then each run was like new words to a baby — each step and every accomplishment was not just novel, but exhilarating.  I craved progress. I wanted to get better. I needed to.

Of course, I had no way of knowing that every self-directed push to run a few extra feet — to that stop sign or bridge or turn in the road — was sealing my future love affair with running.

In my first season of cross-country, I was next to the slowest girl on my team. But it didn’t deter me. The team practiced co-ed; having the boys with us was a powerful compass for goal setting and training harder than I might normally. With a season under my belt, I was determined to best my benchmark the following year. My coach challenged me to use the summer — to run consecutive days, rain or shine, never missing a day. That was a big concept for me. None of my friends were going to do this. It would be hard and it would take commitment. I told him I would do it.

Every day of summer, I never missed a run. Rather than set aside time for it,  I let the urge to run be my guide. Sometimes it was a “wake and run,” other times the mood struck mid day, or after dinner (occasionally during it). But I always ran. To this day, running as the mood strikes is my very favorite way to do it — though it’s admittedly too hard with a career and a kid and a household to run.

By my next season I dropped nine minutes off my best 5k time, took over as team captain and was named both MVP and MIP at the close of the year. I also joined track where I ran the mile, the ½ mile, the ¼ mile and the 1600 relay. I competed in both cross-country and track regional and state competitions.

Over the years, my commitment to running has waxed and waned. But I’ve always returned to it. And I’ve been consistently running now for eight years, ramping up to longer distances along the way. These days I do Ironman — they’re my new “make it to the stop sign.” While I’m not fast enough to be competitive, I’ve never felt like a happier or more accomplished runner. These races have taught me to train harder, smarter and to enjoy every step.

Each day I when stare down at my growing set of summer tan lines, I smile. While I might look a fool next to the other moms at the pool, I know I earned these stripes.

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