Any good distance runner knows the trait you need most to succeed in a race.
I’ve spent years trying to improve that one trait.
My running journey started when I was nine years old. We were sitting in church when the pastor mentioned a 5k (3.1 miles) that the church was doing. I can’t say for certain who said that my dad and I should run it together. My mom says that she suggested it after the service. My dad claimed he was the first to mention it. Personally, I’ve always remembered leaning over and whispering to my dad, “Hey, we should run that together.” Whoever it was, they have caused me so much pain and joy in a wonderfully terrible sport, and I will thank them for the rest of my life.
We only had a few months until the big race, so we got straight to training. That was when I first became acquainted with my greatest enemy, the treadmill. Although we did most of our workouts together on the Prairie Path, where I still train today, whenever I couldn’t run with my dad, I’d run on the treadmill and have so many regrets about two seconds in.
Fun fact, the treadmill, or treadwheel as it was then called, was originally designed by William Cubitt to be a form of punishment and torture in 19th century English prisons until it was eventually outlawed in 1898 for being too cruel. It sucks all of the joy out of running, the competition, the wonderful environments you get to run in, the ever changing landscape. It’s unnatural to go from a beautiful forested path with birds chirping, deers sprinting across your path, the occasional cat, to a dank basement with a treadmill pointed at a TV mounted wall. Each minute feels like an hour as you’re forced to watch your distance completed ever so slowly grow. For every bit of endurance needed for a run on a path, ten times as much is needed for a run on a treadmill. I hated every second that I spent on that treadmill, but I did learn to cherish my time on the Prairie Path. The Prairie Path is a beautiful crushed limestone path converted from an old railroad. It goes through forests, downtown areas, and everywhere in between. I loved, and still love, training on the Prairie Path.
Once we had trained, we were finally ready for the big 5k. The course was in the church parking lot, and I did not know what to expect. Although I had trained a lot, I had never run with more people than just my dad. Now I was going to run with well over a hundred. I don’t remember much from that race, I mostly just fell into a rhythm and emptied my mind, but I do know that I loved it, and we even decided to do a half marathon (13.1 miles) later that year.
For those of you who have never seen the full range of human emotions, I would definitely recommend running a half marathon with a nine year old. A long distance runner can go through several emotions in a very short span of time. So can a nine year old. Joy, sadness, anger, despair, some weird combination of all of them, all within minutes. It gets really intense. And in our case we were running for almost two hours. It took huge amounts of determination to get through that, and I remember being so proud when I had finally finished and got my finishers medal and plaque for winning my age group (which consisted of only two people). It was at that moment, consumed by the dopamine rush commonly referred to as a ‘runner’s high’ that your brain uses to reward you for a job well done, that I decided that I wanted to do long distance for the rest of my life.
This would eventually lead to me being accepted into cross country as a 5th grader, a year younger than is typically allowed, and to me being on the high school country team, where I am so happy to be now. I love Timothy Cross Country, and with the help of Coach Z last year, and Coach Mirra and Coach Plaisier this year, I have improved far more than I thought possible, with a difference of about 5 and a half minutes between my first high school race and my current personal best.
I've grown a lot as a runner since I was nine. I no longer run with my dad, but he’s always on the sidelines yelling at me to “Get that guy in front of you!” I’m obviously a lot faster (although it did take me a few more years than I care to admit to beat my 5k record from when I was ten). I’ve made so many friends during Timothy cross country, and I hope to keep these for the rest of my life. I’ve also learned the power of endurance. It’s necessary for everything in life, from something as small as a 5k to something as big as a global pandemic, and I am so thankful that I have been given the opportunity to strengthen myself in this trait.