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My Choice

Posted Jun 14 2011 9:40pm
A True Story of my On Again-Off Again Relationship.
Inspired by my lack of physical activity.

I was in about the third grade when I ran my first official track race. My parents only had one car, so we mostly played all the sports within walking (or running) distance from our house. One year there was a track program at Worcester State just a mile or so up the road... so my brothers and I did it.

At the time, I thought that the coach knew everything there was to know about running. In hindsight, he was probably just a regular guy that knew and cared just enough to conduct a halfway decent youth program. Regardless of his credentials, my brother and I were pegged as naturals. "You were meant for Running" I had heard countless times. Of course, because of that, I signed up for the longest and hardest event I was allowed to race. I ran the 440 yards (yes, yards) in 71 seconds. Not too shabby. I still had really short legs!

In the sixth grade I was cut from the basketball team. This is what I consider my first athletic failure of many. One of my friends, who I strongly believed I was better than, made the team. Actually, a lot of people I felt "athletically superior" to made the team. I was really embarrassed to "lose" to those other girls. As a way to prove to myself and all the other kids in my class that I was good enough, I made it my mission to get the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. It was a lot of work! I remember for my flexibility pretest I was only able to reach 2" beyond my feet without bending my knees and I needed to reach 7"! I trained hard for that. My sister Mary, who pushed on my back and pulled at my arms every night and made marks on the floor with a ruler, can attest to that. The training paid off and I was the only sixth grader to get the Award. I wasn't the best at anything, but where most people failed, I succeeded. Running and I just meshed well. Many others had to stop and walk during the mile run, but I found myself running faster and faster each week finishing with a 6:17 for the final test.

I played lots of sports throughout my young life. Field Hockey, Basketball (eventually I made the team), and years of Softball. Home plate felt like home to me for Junior High since I spent a lot of my time crouched behind it in the catching position for a few different softball teams. I was a decent catcher, but I was most known on my team as "the secret weapon." My coach just loved getting me on base so I could intentionally get stuck in a pickle and cause the other team to make an error allowing us a run. I could run back and forth forever, and could get over, under, or around most gloves. I wasn't unstoppable, but mixing me and Running was usually a winning combo.

In high school I tried out for Field Hockey. I had been playing since the 6th grade, so I felt comfortable with my skills, but unlike many other girls trying out for the team, I was completely new to the school. My new high school had a Junior High that I did not attend. A lot of the Freshmen girls had already made the team in previous years, so I knew I had to stand out. We had to run 3 miles, and to my recollection, this was the first time in my life I ever ran that sort of distance. I was nervous, but knew I could do it. I started with the captains who reminded me to "pace myself" when I pulled ahead of them, but it just felt too slow. I had to go ahead, I had to make the team. I thought back to my Youth Track and Field days. I was taught to never look over my shoulder and to always assume someone was right behind me; at try outs that day, I did just that. When I arrived back at the school, I was a little embarrassed by the lead I had put on the other girls. The coach actually asked me if I got lost! After explaining where I went, it became clear I really was just that far ahead. For the first three days of tryouts I extended my lead to make sure I wasn't cut from another team. I don't think I was making many friends on the field hockey team, but the Cross Country girls took notice...

"You should do Cross Country instead" the coach joked

"Would I have to try out?" I replied

I didn't like try outs very much, they were the cause of my first athletic failure, so when I found out I already made the team I was sold. The flirting ended, and my relationship with Running became official.

It was never a stable relationship. One of passion and fury; resentment and desire; angst, fear, aggression; peace, solace, love. Every emotion on the spectrum came into play at one point or another. I had won big races, and I lost even bigger ones, set records, finished in last place, traveled with my team, traveled alone, wet my pants, thrown up on the finish line, had a great picture in the paper, had a terrible picture in the paper, cried out of joy, cried out of embarrassment... I was young and still trying to figure out how serious to take this relationship. My coach advised me to "enjoy my health" but I wanted to take it to the next level. I only cared about winning, and anything short of that was a failure. Fortunately, I won a lot more than I lost, but unfortunately, college was a huge reality check. Winning races was a rare gift given by the athletic gods in college. Things got ugly.

If I had to choose one word to describe my relationship with Running in college it would be "pressure"..... "pressure, pressure, pressure..." I was now married to Running. I had an actual contractual agreement (known as a scholarship) forcing me to stay in this now volatile relationship. I had a mantra on runs during college. It was inspired by some words I saw printed on a banner for the rival team. "Press On" it read in cute bubble letters. I rolled my eyes at the irony of the sign. It was written as if "Pressing On" was bubbly and cute.... are you serious?! This team was unstoppable though, so being bubbly and cute must have had it's benefits. I had the opportunity to be on that team once, I applied to the college and met with the coach, but she told me I would have a difficult time making the Varsity squad. Being the arrogant girl I was, I found that insulting and took my talent elsewhere. I ran for a team that would race them on a regular basis so I could always measure myself against that Varsity squad. I wanted to remind the coach what she was missing out on. They qualified for Nationals as a team every year, and although it was slim that I'd have a team with me, all I ever wanted was to qualify, too. It was going to require more work, more toughness, and more Running. If they were going to "Press On" I was going to "Press Harder." I did just that and after a few years of failure, I made it to Nationals. Ironically, by finishing high enough in the championship to qualify, I displaced their team by one point which was exactly what they lost by. It was the first time I had ever witnessed the dynasty falling in a championship.

I qualified for Nationals during the track season that year, too, but the track coach had a slightly different approach. This coach believed in something even more daunting than the mantra "Press Harder." He was a "Do or Die" type of guy... I didn't die, but with all the pressure and intensity, the hairline fracture in my spine wasn't a surprise. I was literally broken, and so was my relationship.

We went to therapy, Running and I (physical therapy), and then we were back on track (literally and figuratively). Again, a common enemy or common goal driven by ego, united us. This time, I wasn't trying to prove anything to the sixth graders, I wasn't trying to beat all the Field Hockey girls, and I wasn't trying to take down a running dynasty by myself; I was after my former coach. Running and I went back to our favorite objective: Press Harder. This time it was to prove to the coach that we were better off without him. I set many personal records, and continued to excel in local and championship races, many of which he was present to witness. Eventually, he broke enough runners that he was fired from his job as a coach, so I felt like my work was done. What could Running and I tackle together, next?

This sport is very different after college. Most people out there actually love Running. I started to, oh, I don't know.... grow up!... and realize that something was missing in my relationship with Running. I never was sincerely in love. I always loved what Running gave me, not Running itself. I craved a real relationship. One like what everyone else had. I wanted to cut out all the egotistical crap and get down to the real pureness of the love. I was finding it difficult to still work to achieve my fullest potential, while actually enjoying my time with Running. How could I "Press Harder" and be happy? Cute bubble letters don't mesh well with those words, I just couldn't make it work, so I was constantly at war. There were times where the contradiction between myself and Running became too great. I hated Running for forcing itself into my life so much that I can't see any value in myself without it. Without Running I was nothing... But with Running I feel so.... limited and trapped. Always falling short of impossible expectations...

I never chose Running. Running chose me. Since beginning this journey twelve years ago, whenever the tension between Running and I became too great, I always retract. I become so angry! Some days I feel as though Running has stolen my innocence, my childhood, and my life. It has exposed me to failure over and over and over and over and over again, and has broken my heart more times than forgivable. It has caused me more agony and defeat than anything in this world ever has or ever will. When I get mad at Running, I often yell "I did not choose you!!" and wish it away... but it has never left me. No matter what approach I take breaking off this relationship, Running has never left. Running is the most loyal companion I've ever had. There isn't a person in this world that can match the loyalty. It's always been there in the center of my heart and the forefront of my mind reminding me of all the good times we have had together, the successes, the triumphs, the laughter. It ropes me back in like any one else at the end of a relationship would desperately do... and each time, I have fallen for it again.

This time is different. This time I have not pushed Running away. Running has been taken from me. I'm not sure why (or even how) this undiagnosed back injury has occurred, but I need to work hard to find the good in this situation. The good is that I don't have to run. I finally have a reason to terminate this relationship forever. This is my chance for a clean break (no pun intended). After four months of being alone, I have pretty much moved on and have accepted my life without Running. I've filled all the voids with something else. Granted, I still feel a sense of loss, but I'm realizing I can live without Running. As I feel my back healing, I realize I have a chance here to do something I never got to do before. I have a chance to choose. For twelve years I have been running out of obligation. Running has been my only form of self empowerment and when backed against the wall I really had no other option, but now I've found other ways to feel good about myself. I don't actually need running anymore. I finally have a chance to make my own choice. When I'm healed, I can do something I've never done before. I can choose.

For the first time ever, I can say that Running is my choice. I want Running. And maybe, just maybe, I can learn to have a real relationship full of meaning and love. I just want one more chance to show how much I love Running. You have taught me everything I know. You have taught me to stand up and fight for what I believe in, You have taught me to have confidence under pressure, you have taught me to trust my intuition and to follow through, you have taught me to pace myself, you have taught me to push myself, you have taught me that I can do more than I thought, and then I can do even more than that. You have taught me to Press Harder, you have given me power, you have taught me who I really am, you have taught me to never give up, you have taught me to Love.

I look forward to the day where I can put my sneakers back on, and take my very first steps in this promising relationship with Running. I will run further than ever before, and more willingly. I will Press Harder with a bubbly spirit, and I will achieve more than I ever have. This time, I wont be succumbing to a relationship forced on me.

Running is My Choice

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