Runs Like This

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School was hard today; long homework assignments on top of essays on top of tests on top of projects and, to make my day more stressful, I spent hours anxious and worried about fears in my head. To top it off, I skipped lunch to try and end a relationship with a boy without hurting his feelings, but it made the situation worse.  By my last class period, my brain was throbbing wanting to explode and my anxiety was through the roof.

I wanted to lay in bed and cry, but I thought of a semicolon and put on my running clothes.

This is where my day started to change.

I asked an amazing girl if she wanted to run with me, I knew she had to run today anyway because she is training for a half marathon, so I thought we could run together.

She said yes and we set off for a five mile run.

After about two hundred feet, a sharp pain in my calf that I get often when I run started to scream inside my leg. My negative mind set began to kick in. I’m going to slow her down… This run is going to suck. You’re not going to be able to do this. You’re such a slow runner. This is why your coach isn’t proud of you. This is why you won’t make it to CIF. 

Luckily, I made an amazing decision: I took a deep breath, cast out the negative voices,  and just kept running.

My running parter and I talked about school and life and running. We talked until we both fell silent as we slipped under the spell of running: our movements connected directly to our breath, the pain became a faint feeling instead of an all-encompassing sensation, our foot steps made a clip-clop clip-clop rhythm. Our breathing was all our mind focused on and we became encompassed in the aura of running.

Breath in, step step, breath out, step step, breath in, step step, breath out, step step…

My breathing was like a conductor and my footsteps were the orchestra.

I usually run alone and it’s crazy how much running with other people can change your running experience. Even when we weren’t talking, I felt like my running partner was there for me. If I fell, she would catch me. If I needed to slow down, she would stay with me. If I wanted to run ten more miles, she would run with me and I hope she knows that I would do the exact same for her. If you are reading this right now, I hope you know how grateful I am to run with you.

When you’re in the zen of running, you go with the flow, you are supportive of your peers, and you are supportive of yourself. This is how I was today.

My legs felt strong, my mind felt clear. I was next to an amazing girl, surrounded by beautiful scenery. I was happy.

Once we got to our destination, we bought drinks, smiled, laughed, talked, and stretched out our aching muscles.

Running is an unpredictable sport. Somedays you’ll run a mile and your legs will feel like lead. You’ll be miserable, in pain, and want to stop. Other days, you’ll run ten miles and feel amazing, like you could keep going forever.

On bad running days, your brain will say “stop running,” your body will say “stop running,” but you need to find it in your heart to say “keep running.”

Runs like today are the reason my heart says “keep running.”

After bad workouts, bad races, and times where I want to quit, I will think back to the run I did today and think: “Runs like that are why I love running.”

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Respect the road.

There is a road that I run all the time.

Since I’m currently training by myself, I get to decide where I run. I avoid this road as much as possible. But during cross country season, when I’m at the mercy of my coaches, most of our workouts involve the road in some way.

Going down is smooth sailing. Going up is hell.

photo credit: nelseverydaypainting.blogspot.com

The road is more like a hill, a giant, mile-plus long hill. It’s on a constant incline and, as you get closer to the top, it gets steeper.

At first, I absolutely loathed this road.

I always hated it in the beginning, because it turned even my best runs turn into something that made me feel like I was putting myself through torture.

The road is sometimes unforgiving. The more you climb, the weaker your legs feel, the more your lungs burn, the more you feel like your brain is about to explode.

I used to fight it. Each day, I felt like I was preparing for this great battle, in which only one victor would prevail: me or the hill.

But, eventually, I started to realize that it wasn’t really a battle of physicality; it was more so a battle of wit. I learned to work with the road instead of against it and things started to make more sense.

I learned to take advantage of even the tiniest bit of downhill, to take the straightest line possible. I started to read the road, to take note of how it felt when I ran a certain way.

To this day, I still don’t like running it. But, I’ve learned how to do it properly.

The road used to be some foreign, intimidating beast that I thought I would never be able to understand. Now, I realize that it was really just an old, wise mentor for me, my very own Mr. Miyagi. 

Last night, I was headed up the road on the bus and, as I looked out the window, I knew exactly what point we were at solely based on the glimpse I caught of the tops of the oak trees. It made me smile, seeing how far I’ve come.

The same miles of curving pavement that used to seem endless to me are now ingrained into my memory, including details down to which tree is positioned where on each corner.

The countless days of practice, all of the sweat-soaked t-shirts and aching muscles really did pay off, in so many more ways than for just my running.

If only I knew back then just how much I would come to understand the road and how much it would come to understand about me.

I wouldn’t have believed it three years ago.

My Tuesday Run

Image from redbirdhills.com

In cross county, my coaches always remind us that the sport has as much to do with mental strength as it does physical strength.

With that in mind, I’d like to invite you to come running with me – for the mental part, at least.

Here’s what a few miles look like inside of my head.

Mile 1:
Don’t start too fast, just get warmed up.
It’s hot today, but not as bad as it usually is. The gravel crunches beneath my shoes. We reach a little bit of downhill.
I hear my coach’s voice: “Let gravity do the work.”
Get your breathing back. Drop your arms. Shake it out.
The road in front of us curves up a long hill. It’s steep.
Slow it down. What hurts worse, lungs or legs? Legs. I can breathe still.
My calves tighten the farther up we climb. I count my steps between each exhale. We’re running in 4/4 time. I inhale on the 1st beat, exhale through 2, 3, 4.

Mile 2:
Sweat drips down my forehead. I wipe it off with my shirt.
Take it easy now.
My breathing is steady – that’s good. My left calf hurts more than my right. The opposite of yesterday.
This hill is a bitch. Settle in, we’ll be here for a while.
It hurts.

Mile 3:
Keep your arms down. Breathe.
The road settles and is flat for a while.
You’re not tired, it just hurts.

Mile 4:
What hurts worse, lungs or legs? Both. You’re not tired, you just can’t breathe. There’s a difference.
The next two miles are steady uphill.
Use your arms! The harder you work the faster you’ll be done.

Mile 5:
This hill is a BITCH.
My ragged breathing is louder than my shoes on the pavement. Sweat covers my whole body. My arms ache from pumping and the muscles in my legs feel like they’re made of both cement and water at the same time. My mouth is so dry that when I touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth it sticks.
Eyes up, on the road. So close. I feel awful.
I can’t breathe. The smell of wood chips in the orchard makes me want to puke. Push.
Everything hurts.

The Finish:
I jog past the green gate the marking the end of the road, the end of the run. My left foot leaves the pavement and lands on grass and the right follows.
Don’t sit down. Breathe.
As I walk back and forth beneath the oak trees, my lungs start to settle down. The tension in my legs slowly fades, first easing up in my quads and then from my calves.
My breathing returns to normal. I’m not hurting anymore.
I just ran five miles.
I feel good.

 

Only 73 days left

So for my senior project I decided to run a marathon. For some reason I actually thought that would be a good idea. I’m not really sure what I was thinking when I decided this.

Now I’m not saying it has all been bad, but I am now entering into my seventh week of training and I’m really ready to be done.

Don’t get me wrong, I love exercising, but there is something about it loosing its appeal when you have to stick to a specific schedule everyday.

Wednesdays have become my favorite days. Why you may ask? Because I have every single Wednesday off. Not one Wednesday in my 16 week training plan do I have to run. Just having one day off might not seem like much, but to someone who is running around 30 plus miles a week, having one day off is amazing.

Only 73 more days of running left.

I can do this.

A Different Type of Family

CIF.

Ever since I became involved in sports I had always thought of CIF as the place where the best of the best go to compete. I never thought in a million years I would make it there, especially for cross country.

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Photo Credit: MomoeTakamatsu

This past weekend, my high school girls’ cross country team (only consisting of five members), our two coaches and a few key members of our support group, made the long haul to Riverside, California. It was an all day event, starting from the early hours of the morning and not returning until well after the sun had gone down. The traffic was horrendous, the dust was suffocating (leaving us with the worst “runner’s cough,”) and the pain felt never ending.

I would do it all over again.

This is a memory I will cherish and I will always be grateful for being given this opportunity. The traffic, coughing and eternal pain, pale in comparison to the memories we made that day. The girls, some I knew from years before and some I just met this year, are now like sisters to me. All the long practices, blisters, sweat, tears and countless times of feeling like our chests were going to explode or we were going to lose our lunches, brought us together in an unexplainable bond.

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Photo Credit: Momoe Takamatsu

Running has changed me and made me into the person I am. It has taught me so much more than just how to breathe or use my arms to make it up a hill. It has done more than just help me get into shape. It has been tough and very painful but it has taught me a sense of commitment, strength, and family.

I would have never experianced any of this if it wasn’t for my coach.

Our coach shared with us after the race that we were the first team he’s ever taken to CIF. When he told us how proud he was and how much growth he’s seen in us, it brought tears to my eyes. I have been running for him since my freshman year. I am now a senior and this past race was my final one. This man that I call a coach, teacher, advisor, and friend is the most generous and inspiring man I know. He has been there cheering me on and encouraging me more times than I can count. He is like a second father to me, pushing me to the point that I want to yell back, but always knowing what’s best for me, supporting me to no end. Turning my jersey in means so much more than just an end to a sports season. It is an end to that chapter in my life, but not an end to the friendship that was made. I know that will always be there and he will always be there, cheering me on at the finish line.

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Photo Credit: MomoeTakamatsu

 

What Hill?

“Ready, set, GO!”

I’ve never even thought about running 3 miles before. And I am not kidding.
But once I reached that goal, I fell in love with running. And I am not kidding either.

I was not born to be a runner, so I did not treat running seriously in the beginning.

Last year I joined the cross-country team, because we did not have tennis.
“It’s just running, not a big deal,” I told myself. But I was totally wrong.

Everyday we ran different things. At the beginning, I could not even finish one whole mile without walking and the worst part of my day was always  sports time.
The sun never rested during the practice. We did harder workouts at least once a week. I could not walk the day after tough practice. I was hurting everywhere on my body.

But I was getting better.

Then I had to face the very first cross-country meet in my life – at Thatcher.
I was extremely nervous. I could feel my legs shaking and my heart was beating like a drum.
I did not expect to run the whole three miles, that seemed impossible to me. But I decided to try anyways.

Everyone was exhausted and I just kept running in slow pace. I thought about the days we ran together; I thought about how Mr. Alvarez encouraged us and pushed our backs; I thought about home and wondered if my parents were having fun this holiday; I thought… I thought about everything, i thought about nothing.
I just ran and ran.

Everyone was encouraging me as well. “Let’s go, Shelly!”

“Almost there!”

“Way to run girl!”
And yes, I finished it without stopping or walking. I guess that would be the time I felt the most proud of myself.

After the very first race, I changed my opinion of running. I did not hate it or fear it anymore. I started to accept it because I knew I was capable of defeating it.
Three month’s of training, the season ended strongly with all the incredible improvements i gained everyday.

This year, I was glad to see our cross-country team grow much bigger, with more than 20 people.
The weather was fervent as well, of course. We ran pretty much the same courses but it did not feel as painful as it did before.

As for me, running is not only the thing I do to fulfill my sports time. It changes me, slowly but thoroughly. I became faster and stronger.

Our team got new shirts this year, and they says “What Hill?” on the back. They are the best shirts ever, I think, because no one else but we runners know the special meanings of those two words.

Finally it comes – my last cross-country meet at Thatcher, the place where everything begins.

It is probably my last time running a whole 3-miles course with my friends, wearing the green uniforms which we would never stop complaining about.

We don’t run for the certain miles or the destination, we don’t run for fame or glory.
But we do run to conquer all kinds of hills, we do run to challenge and prove ourselves.

We line up as usual. Everyone is encouraging each other and smiling.

Suddenly my heart is filled with joy.
Suddenly I realize that running does not only bring me power and strength to defeat all the distance and hills; running brings me courage, friendships, love, and valuable memories.

Yes, we are Cross-Country Team.
And WE RUN.

Soccer

Football, or as we Americans call it, soccer.

Yes, I’m aware that the above is not a complete sentence.  However, the winter sports season is my favorite, as I get to play soccer.

Now, I hate running.  Even though I do cross-country in the fall and track in the spring, I am really not a runner.  I wish I was, but I’m not and that’s just how it is.

That aside, I love running in soccer.  I love the sprinting, and the distance.  My friend Ally and I run at least two additional miles after practice every day.

Here’s the other thing: I’m terrible at soccer.

I played as a kid in one of those coed AYSO leagues.  The only thing I remember from that was when a kid named Peter fell off the monkey bars near our practice field and got a concussion.  I was sad because he was never the same when he came back, and I had a crush on him.

I played again in seventh and eighth grade on the school team, and wanted to play my freshman year of high school.  But, I popped out my knee during cross-country and skipped a year, joining back up as a sophomore as left wing.

I’m currently the only left-footed player on my team, so I guess that’s something.

But back to the point, I’m awful.

I just can’t seem to get my kicks right and I don’t know why.  But that’s ok; I don’t mind.

Who needs aim when you can just smash?

That’s what I do.  I just barrel into whoever is in my way and pass it to the players on my team who actually have all that fancy ball-handling down.  It’s a party, and I like it.

I love the physicality of soccer, the movement, the heat.

There’s something incredibly fierce about the pace and the nature of the game.  It’s like an unexpected dance, the opposing team always has you guessing.  You have to figure out how to move with them, anticipate their actions and take your queues.

Of course…I’m a horrendous dancer, but that’s mostly irrelevant.