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They say that running is a cheap sport, but the truth is it isn't. It's cheaper if you're not running races, but I don't fall in that camp: I committed myself to running a race a month in the year 2015 and my fees have ranged from $5 - $150 per race. Even if you're not racing, though, other things add up.
First there's the apparel: shorts, tank tops and a hat with a brim for summer and long pants, long-sleeved shirts, gloves and reflective gear for winter. If you run a lot, you'll need running socks: the kind that wick away moisture and help prevent blisters. If you get blisters in spite of your socks, you'll need Body Glide. If you still get blisters in spite of your socks and Body Glide, you'll need a huge supply of Neosporin and blister bandages. When the sun comes out, count on going through bottle after bottle of sunscreen. To keep the hair out of your face, you'll likely need both hair ties and head bands. Where are you going to keep your water? In a water holster, of course. Where are you going to play your music? From an arm band that links to your headphones, of course. If you use your phone like I do, you're done here. If you use more — a running watch or Fit Bit, for example — the expenses continue.
Then there's the biggest purchase of all: running shoes. I bought my last pair of shoes approximately 31 weeks ago and proceeded to run about 720 miles in them, which is waaaaay over what's recommended for a pair of running shoes. In fact, it's downright dangerous to wear shoes that long: when you see the wear and tear in the tread on the bottom of my shoes, it's clear I'm putting my feet at risk by no longer providing them with the best traction and support. It is way beyond time for a new pair of shoes, which is why I'm giving myself an early Christmas present and getting a new pair soon. As a bonus, I won a $25 gift certificate to a running store from the last race I did (so sometimes those races do pay off).
But here's the thing: despite all the things I've listed here, running at its core is still the most simple sport I can imagine. Yes, it's important to dress appropriately to plan for the elements and yes, it certainly helps with motivation to have an electronic device that tracks my pace and time while also playing music. But at the end of the day, running is basic. It's pure. All that's required is lacing up a pair of shoes and walking out the door. There is no other physical activity (okay, except walking or biking) I can start the SECOND after I shut the door behind me.
I'm so grateful for all those miles my shoes carried me. Each mile was a little pocket of time I got to spend by myself, solving my own problems and thinking my own thoughts. In a time when we're constantly inundated with both electronic and social distractions, having an uninterrupted block of time to ourselves is priceless. And that's what running is to me: my time. I don't enjoy running with other people. I don't enjoy competition. I enjoy being alone, pushing myself, getting covered in sweat, and feeling like I'm capable of anything. I enjoy those runs that start cold and miserable but end with me feeling invincible. I enjoy those runs that take me to places — both literal, physical places and also places inside myself — I've never been before.
This time last year, I was running a 13:20 mile. My average so far for this month is 8:13. I'm a faster, stronger, better runner. There's one simple reason for this: I kept running. I ran on days when I wanted to run. I ran on days when I didn't feel like running. I ran to train for all my races. I ran to push myself. I ran to keep myself in shape. I ran to clear my head. I ran to get out of the house. I ran to escape my work. I ran to escape myself. I ran to get a break from life. I ran to listen to music. I ran to get outside. I ran to get better. I ran to get stronger. I ran to get faster. I ran and then I ran some more and after awhile I didn't have to force myself to run very often — though some days, I still did. Those days, I fought hard for my runs. If it took me a lot of motivation to get myself out the door, I honored that and tried to push myself that much harder. Many of my PRs resulted from days when I didn't want to take the first step but did anyway.
These busted-up, falling-apart shoes that have accompanied me over the last 720 miles have been my companion. My support system. I chose them over real companionship. People who enjoy running together are a different breed. I do it occasionally — like when on vacation — and I enjoy it occasionally, but for the most part I just want to hit the pavement with nothing but my music and my shoes. Every sidewalk, every muddy trail, every crosswalk where I've nearly been killed because people turning right on a red light NEVER look for pedestrians — my shoes have been with me for all of it. They tossed me hard on the ground once (the week before my wedding so I'd have some lovely bruises to show for myself on the big day), but for the most part they kept me upright. They kept me going: one foot in front of the other in front of the other. That's all running is: a step and then another step and another step. Most people who are afraid of running aren't afraid of the 30th or 300th or 3,000th step. They're afraid of the first step.
I used to be afraid, too, which is why I didn't run for so many years. It's hard to start once you've let yourself go because you know it's going to feel challenging. You know you're not going to look graceful. You know it's going to hurt in your chest. You know you're going to look big and sweaty. You know you'll be passed. You know you'll have to stop to catch your breath. You know you'll look ridiculous to all the people in all the cars who pass you.
And then one day you realize that none of the people in the cars passing you give a shit about what you look like when you're running and if they do, you don't give a shit in return. And you realize that as long as you keep going, you'll have to stop less and it will hurt less and it's not so insurmountable as you thought. It's just one step and then another. And so you lace up your shoes, stop worrying about what anyone else thinks, and start running.
Really, that's all there is to it. You just get up and go. You can run in races like I do or you can run purely for yourself. You can work to improve your pace or you can keep things slow and steady. You can run five days a week or you can run two. You can run long distances or short. There's no right way and there's no wrong way to run. You just need a pair of shoes and a little bit of heart. And if you're lucky, on the days when you can't find your heart, your shoes will carry you anyway. Mine always do. I couldn't be more grateful.