As events return to the Flathead Valley, the calendar entries that thrill me most don’t involve music, food or booze. Rather, they’re the ones in which I run until I almost vomit. This, you see, is called “fun.”
For members of the nation’s growing running population, races are indeed enjoyable, even if painful. Serious runners see a chance to compete and prove themselves. For other participants, it’s an opportunity to test their bodies and minds, to feel the satisfaction that comes with completing a 5K or marathon. And for many, regardless of ability, it’s a social opportunity.
I played a variety of organized sports growing up, with an emphasis on basketball, but I never ran any distance longer than a mile, nor did I have a desire to do so. Then, when I turned 25, I decided I needed more fitness in my daily lifestyle and hesitantly took up running.
Running gradually started to feel better, but most importantly I began to feel better, mentally and physically. After I entered my first 5K, I was hooked. A decade later, I still am.
I fall somewhere in between hardcore and casual on the runner’s spectrum. I’ve been managing to squeeze 35-40 miles a week out of a full-time work and parenting schedule, running through the winter at night with a headlamp after the kids went to bed and more recently embracing the longer light. When my professional duties allow, I substitute a couple nighttime runs for workday lunch-break runs each week.
While 40 miles per week may sound like a lot to a non-runner, it’s pretty low mileage compared to the pastime’s most devoted disciples. In fact, two writers in my own newsroom, Micah Drew and Tristan Scott, regularly run more than double that amount each week.
Bold prediction alert: Micah, a former Division I runner who remains an elite athlete, will win the upcoming Whitefish Half Marathon unless an out-of-state ringer surprises me. He has also been coaching Editor-in-Chief Kellyn Brown, who is preparing to run his second full marathon and first in 20 years.
It’s not hyperbolic to say running changed my life. Physicality, while important, is less of a critical component than the mental health benefits it provides. It centers me, giving me an hour or so to myself to happily succumb to the metronomic Zen of moving feet and a beating heart. I feel refreshed when I finish; my head is clearer.
Then there are the races, when I push myself in ways I don’t anywhere else in life, and thus discover new realms of possibility beyond what I assumed were my limits. The pain is part of the package, and the sense of achievement overshadows it all, usually.
An injury to my posterior tibial tendon in the winter of 2018 led to, after trying to run through it, a prolonged period of no running, during which I feared I’d never run again. I’m eternally thankful to my physical therapist and neighbor, Brian Miller of Advanced Rehabilitation Services, who patiently coached me through rehab.
When I tentatively returned to running, I had been sidelined for so long that it was essentially like starting over. I allowed myself to simply enjoy the act for the sake of it, without obsessing over pace and distance. This period coincided with the onset of the pandemic, and I’m not sure if I could have handled the hardest periods without running, or more precisely if my wife could have handled me.
Saturday’s Whitefish Half Marathon will be my first race since running this same one in 2018. It feels good to say that, and it will feel even better to run it, even with the inevitable moments of agony.
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