In 2004, I took my first steps…first steps on the road to becoming “a runner”.
I remember my dad “going jogging” back in the mid 1970s, but beyond that, I had very little background on running or what was entailed with “becoming a runner”. In fact, I was one of those people we all hear who say, “I only run if I’m being chased”.
(But I wasn’t, actually, because I hated running.)
Thinking back, I remember struggling to run “the mile” in grade school. I did complete it (but not well) and begrudgingly so. It was absolute torture.
Little did I realize that a decade or so later, I’d find myself seeing it a completely different way. See, two friends who often went out running long distances invited me out to join them, and repeatedly so.
Maybe they saw I needed it. Perhaps they were running out of things to talk about. Or maybe they wanted to spend more time with me. I really don’t know. But these two guys, each in their own unique way, was someone I’d looked up to, each I admired. One, 20 years my elder, like a father figure. The other, four years my senior, like the older brother I’ve never had.
So one day, I packed my sneakers I’d last worn to cut the lawn and a ratty old t-shirt and pair of shorts that was probably last used to lift weights back in high school. Never quite “an athlete”, I did enjoy neighborhood pickup games of any sort. Stick ball in the street, schoolyard basketball, and little league baseball occupied my days, growing up in the New York suburbs.
But not running.
The first two steps of road running with my buds was the start of something special.
We’d go out after work, ritualistically every other day and complemented our runs with weightlifting sessions.
No judgment. Never any judgment. Meeting me where I was (always several steps behind), coaching me along. Stretching before. Water all day. Start eating this, and stop eating that.
Three milers became five, then six, and more. We’d run 6.5 miles “over the bridge” overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We’d run in the rain and cold, in the wind, and even the snow. In the summertime, we’d tack on mileage, running early mornings before the neighborhoods woke up. We’d run in the hot midday sun, often winding up at the beach. We were true “road warriors”, embracing "man against nature" some days, and "man against himself" each and every day. We'd actually at one point, became sorts of local attractions (like "Where's Waldo"), as co-workers and local passers-by would beep and wave.
The best part though, we’re the races. We’d decide which we’d register for, and then train towards that goal. 5K, 10K, Half-Marathon. The early drive to get to the site, the pre-race energy, and the strategic maneuvering in and out of foot traffic with hundreds of other runners. We’d stick together, often through the entire race course, and sometimes, one of us would sprint ahead if we were feeling we had a good race in us this particular day. If one of us was struggling or hurting, we’d wait for each other and even circle back.
We were never alone and never left one another alone.
But this is not a story of Olympic proportions, it’s really just a story about a guy who, in this late 20’s discovered what he loves - friendship akin to brotherhood, fitness, both physical and mental, clarity of thought and stress management that accompanies vigorous exercise, and overcoming challenges and sometimes, obstacles.
Two decades later, I no longer run 25 to 40 miles per week. Instead, I do exercises that will sustain my personal wellness and fitness on into my approaching decades. While I have yet to find the workout or activity to match the exhilarating sensation of the run, I sometimes wonder if what I truly miss is that initial high that came with when I took those first two steps, or the thousands that came after.
And that sense of belonging, well, that’s something I will always cherish and never forget.