I have been running since sixth grade. At times casual and others fiercely competitive, running is far and away the sport I am closest to. It has shaped my daily routine, circles of friends, and the meaning I see in my own life for many years. For everything I have given the sport, it has given back more. What follows is a brief insight to why I still run today.
Most sports can take you places, but running is unique in its power to explore. Since I was young I have been fascinated with maps of all sorts, and running has been a way to put feet to paper, exploring the blank spots and looking around the next corner. Whether it’s linking neighborhoods and country roads to forge a new route or tracing the spine of a mountain range halfway around the world, moving with your own two feet is liberating and primal, each new path discovering another. Since moving to Oregon I’ve scoured over more than my share of maps and tried to put the miles where my imagination is. The result is a growing passion for mountain running.
In high school and college the running and racing cycle has a comforting predictability. Summer training, fall cross country—break—winter training, spring track—break—repeat. After college, there are no rules or cycles, only a vast new world of distances, terrain, events, and fastest known times, all flowing from simply following your feet. My focus this year was on short course mountain races, usually a marathon or less featuring significant elevation gain over a variety of surfaces. My training for these events varied from multi-mile long hill repeats, to track intervals, to alpine ski touring, to suffocating treadmill sessions. I try to follow the wisdom that variety is superior to monotony, that something new keeps the body fresh and the mind hungry. This year I ran and raced in Oregon, New Hampshire, Montana, Colorado, and California.
If you are anxious for your next race or adventure, I probably don’t have to explain why a fire in the belly needs to be fed. Someone once told me that when you’re truly satisfied with your effort it’s time to retire. With that logic, most of us still have waters to test. This past year I ran my first road marathon, mountain championships, and ultra marathon; next year I want to run faster at those distances, see how I measure against the best mountain specialists, and maybe attempt 50 miles. But even without races, sometimes you just want to feel fast and confident, like on a desert mountain run this past summer:
My legs started waking up in the cool air, and with gravel underfoot I felt the roll. Rain drops began falling, triggering the vibrant smell from an ocean of sage. I passed the five mile mark in less than 28 minutes and felt my mojo creep back. Exiting the pine filled canyon, the road spilled out to the wide open, a big swirling sky overhead. Of all songs, Call Me Maybe jumped into my head and suddenly a race was on with no one but myself. The final mile was not marked, but no matter. I was crushing it. Whether in SW Montana, the bluffs of Decorah, Iowa, or the Oregon desert, I knew and loved this feeling, the invincibility and sheer giddiness racing through every muscle. I tossed my water bottle aside and flat out sprinted the final two hundred meters to the car.
Finally, camaraderie through running is what kept my wheels turning in high school, college and continues to spur me today. Following the performances and endeavors of former teammates and new friends continually inspires and redefines possible. Whether it’s my college training buddy Matthew Busche pushing the peloton across the French countryside, grad school accomplice Andrew Wagner flowing over iconic mountain ridgelines, or SCI’s founder and my friend Josh Gordon helping his team to the US Club Cross Country Masters Title, there is a constant stream of endeavors to root for that give hope to our own dreams. When your friends and training partners have breakthroughs it makes you wonder, why not me?
Beyond the motivation we draw from friends, there has always been something special about simply sharing the miles and training hours with those closest. One of my favorite quotes was given to me by my college cross country coach Steve Pasche at the conclusion of a difficult but eye opening freshman season. It comes from Aussie distance great Ron Clarke: “To some happiness is a warm puppy or a cold beer, but to me happiness is running in the hills with my mates around me.” Seeking new places and challenges still fuels much of my running, but if I had to choose, I would keep going just for my mates. In the spirit of camaraderie through sport we can all find meaning.
Author: David McKay