My running journey in 10 races

Lessons learned a finish line at a time

Tim
Tim
Apr 30, 2020 · 7 min read
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I miss racing and don’t know the next time we’ll be able to join a starting line with thousands of other people. So instead, I’m looking back at some of my own races and how they shaped my identity as a runner and a person. I’d love to hear the same thing from you!

When I registered for classes a few days before the start of 8th grade, my gym teacher encouraged me to sign up for cross country. I had been training for basketball all summer, so I figured I might be in good enough shape to try it out. My first meet was a 2-mile loop, and to my surprise I led the field most of the way. The finish wasn’t pretty — the kid in second place blew right by me to win, and I threw up five times afterward. But my surprisingly strong performance gave me the confidence to think that maybe I could be a runner. I went out and won my second race, leaving the kid who beat me far behind on a series of hills in the middle of the race. In middle school or high school, running was never a glamorous sport that was played under Friday night lights. It didn’t gain you popularity or attention. Instead, it taught you to push your limits and see what you are capable of doing.

I had ups and downs my first few years of cross country and track in high school. Junior year was supposed to be my breakthrough. Then in the second meet of the year, I heard a pop in my hip as I sprinted toward the finish line. I still don’t know exactly what I injured, but it effectively ended my season. I returned at the end of the year for a couple of JV meets. This injury taught me humility and patience, and also how to give my body time to heal. These are lessons you have to learn over and over as a runner.

At the end of my freshman year in high school, I decided not to cut my hair until I met my goals in either cross country or track. Then I had a disappointing sophomore year, and the aforementioned cross country injury junior year. So two years later, I entered track season with a long, flowing head of hair. It wasn’t until near the end of the season that I finally met one of my goals — running a sub 4:50 mile. That week, the whole team gathered around in the locker room to witness my hair getting shaved off.

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long hair don’t care

Fast forward to after college working as an entry-level journalist. One day, my editor gave me the serendipitous assignment to cover the local Hash House Hasher group’s wedding dress run. I dove into the assignment and ran alongside tipsy runners in top hats and veils to jot down quotes. I treated this like a Pulitzer-worthy story. I’ve never been more proud of a daily newspaper article with my name on it. This quirky article caught the attention of an editor at another paper that led to a reporter position that, as luck would have it, included running and writing about my first beer mile with the Hash House Harriers. I would go on to become “The Beer Runner” and run and write about several more beer miles for DRAFT Magazine, including the World Beer Mile Championships in San Francisco.

Even though there are elite beer mile runners, a race this silly teaches you to not take yourself too seriously and to enjoy the social aspect of racing even more.

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at the beer mile world classic

I was somewhere in my mid-20s when my coworker Sonya asked if I wanted a free entry to our local marathon. I had never even considered running a marathon, but figured how hard could it be? I was young and in shape. You already know what happens next. I started off too fast, thinking for sure I was going to qualify for Boston in my first attempt. Then I hit THE WALL. I walked and jogged the final six miles, stopping frequently to stretch my spasming muscles. It would not be the last time the marathon humbled me, but it was definitely one of the most brutal lessons I’ve learned.

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I think this is my second marathon, but close enough. Limping down the homestretch and celebrating with beer.

After college, I worked part-time as an airline baggage handler to get free flights and casually travel the country. I used a couple of buddy passes to fly with friends to California and run the picturesque Big Sur Marathon. The course was challenging, featured a lot of elevation change, and was one of my slowest marathons. But that was beside the point. We couch surfed with a group of hippies that put on traveling circuses for fun, and after the race rented a small cabin on the ocean. It made me fall in love with the combination of traveling and racing for the pure joy of the experience.

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The halfway point in the Big Sur Marathon course

A took a few years off marathons around the time our daughter, who is now 10, was born. I did some casual 5Ks but nothing serious. I started training for a marathon again when our son was born 6 years ago. I ran him around the neighborhood in a jogging stroller to get him to sleep and to give my wife a break at home. This helped build up my endurance more than I thought and I went into a fall marathon thinking I had a good chance to PR. I started out very conservatively in this race, and kept moving up, and up — and up. What I didn’t expect is that I would cut nearly 27 minutes off my time and break 3 hours. As I approached my mid 30s, this accomplishment reinvigorated me and gave me fresh confidence again as a runner.

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Moving up in the 2014 Lakefront Marathon

I always thought I could shave off a few seconds or even minutes over the course of 26.2 miles. But after high school, I figured my prime 5K days were long gone. Speed is for the young. But in my late 30s, I saw my times continue to improve. To my surprise I hung with someone much faster than me in a local 5K, and it carried me to a big PR and I broke 17 minutes — a barrier I never thought possible for me before. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I did it again a week later.

Running as a dad to two kids takes on new meaning. I need some time for myself and to clear my head, but I also need to balance family responsibilities and be a dad. Enter Disney races! A win-win for all. The family gets to go to Disney, and I get to run a race. Last year I ran the half and PR’d (who does that at Disney??). This year we returned and I ran the full marathon, dressed as Mr. Incredible.

Last year, I had my most successful year of racing from start to finish, and ran my fastest ever marathon in 2:52.

Today running takes on a new meaning, with no races to train for. I’m thankful to still remain active, but I miss the structure of the training cycle, the camaraderie of racing with others and the sweet exhaustion of pushing yourself to your max. The familiar ritual will mean even more when it returns someday. In the meantime, we can think of how much running and racing has taught us and shaped us over the years.

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Tim

Written by

Tim

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity: http://bit.ly/thecreativejourney

Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.

Tim

Written by

Tim

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity: http://bit.ly/thecreativejourney

Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.

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