Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why I Run

I have hesitated to post why I run because it seems personal and uniquely my story.  But I take heart from others' stories, so here is mine.

Growing up in Texas, I was not much of an athlete, if I am honest with myself.  I was the youngest kid in my grade because of a move, and even so, I was physically just not very big. I wasn't small, but just as everyone got older, I was average height and a little pudgy.  And slow, too.  I remember that growing up as a little, little kid (5 yrs old?), I had a foot that turned in. At night, I wore a brace on my hip and foot.  As I grew up, that brace became a distant memory (I honestly forgot all about it until I started running), and I played sports like every other kid.  I played  football (every kid in Texas seemingly plays football), but my football career abruptly ended at high school Junior Varsity.  Same with basketball, ended with high school JV.  Not surprisingly, in a large public high school with 600 kids in a graduating class, there was no place for a 5'8" forward with a vertical leap of about 6 inches.  Or, a lineman with that build.  I was literally getting run over by bigger, faster, stronger kids.

But I could always run distance, even though I was always one of the last finishers in wind sprints.  Summers in Texas are hot, and, as a kid, to "train" for football season, I would run a loop around my neighborhood.  It wasn't much (2 miles), but I ran that loop alot.  I never ran cross country; the thought never crossed my mind really. I didn't have the build for it, and no one ever once suggested it.

A true story: in 9th grade, my freshman year, when I was still in junior high school (9th grade was with 7th and 8th grades in junior high, not in high school), a high school track meet required a freshman cross country team.  The new "freshman" team needed 5 runners.  So, they went to the football team and had everyone run a 2 mile race.  I finished second and just missed first place. The cross country coach lined up the top finishers. Except for me, the top finishers were all running backs and wide receivers -- lanky, skinny kids, and known to be the "athletes" of our class.  The coach said "I don't know how the hell you finished second, Wolve, and I am going to take 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th.  Here are your jerseys." I was disappointed, but not really surprised -- I guess I didn't expect the coach to pick me.

In high school, I was comfortable that my athletic career was over; I had other interests and physically, I just couldn't compete.  School was going great, high school was high school; I just wasn't a football player.  My Dad was a football player at a major Division I program in his collegiate days.  My brother was 6'5" and captain of the basketball team. I was on the debate team.  I also knew that most of my high school classmates wouldn't be football or basketball players in a couple of years, so it really did not bother me that much that my career ended in 10th grade as opposed to 12th. And I didn't think of myself as a runner, either, because, well, I wasn't.

In senior year of high school and college, I grew and shed the baby fat.  I ended topping out at about 6'2" and lanky thin (165 or so).  On my good days, I could dunk a small basketball, and actually became a pretty decent hoops player.  All those years as an undersized player developed scrappiness that served me well once I grew and became above-average height. (As an aside, it is very disconcerting to go to my high school reunions and now realize I am taller than nearly everyone I graduated with, even the star football players.  My self perception as "undersized" remains.)  I ran some in college, but not really; between beers, I basically played pickup basketball every day at my fraternity house.

And then, grad school and the big injury.  First, I went from college in sunny Texas to grad school in frigid Michigan.  In Michigan, you can't play basketball outside every day.  And, I actually had to study.  But, I continued to play basketball sporadically.  Then, four months into my first year of grad school, in a pickup game of basketball in a gym, I went to steal the ball.  My right knee buckled and popped.  I could walk, and thought I had just sprained a knee.  Nope.  I had torn three (out of four) knee ligaments, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), PCL (posterior cruciate ligament), and MCL (medial collateral ligament).  I had also torn the meniscus, the cartilage between the leg bones.  Spring Break of my first year of grad school was spent in the operating room, where I had three hours of reconstructive knee surgery.  I was on crutches for six months. I still have two screws in both my tibia and femur bones holding a piece of patella tendon in place as a knee ligament.

In my later years of grad school (when the studying goes down and spare time goes way up), I started to run some.  Not much, really, but it was easier on my knee than basketball and didn't require a team.  But really, I didn't run that much, and was more of a weight management tool than a hobby.  (I can still remember when the real runner in our class ran 12 miles!  12 miles!  That was further than I could ever imagine.)  It did come as a stress relief to me though, and I can remember during school how many times I ran when life got complicated and I needed to clear my head.  My knee was basically healed, and life went on.

After moving to New York, I started to work in an office, I ran at the gym to "workout."  I also lived close to the finish line of the NY Marathon, and after seeing the end of the race, in person, I thought... someday, I will....But I also knew it would be harder as I got older.  And kids, job and life all got in the way, as that personal goal receded into the past.

I should also say my weight goes up and down, and has since my high school days.  I have gained and lost more than thirty pounds probably 10 times in the last 20 years.  It goes up and down.  Well, it doesn't just go "up and down" like the sun rises and sets each day, I let it go up and and make it come down.  And running is inextricably tied with both -- when I don't run, I eat poorly and gain weight; when I run, particularly with a goal in mind, I lose weight.

About five years ago, as a New Year's resolution, I announced I was going to run the NY Marathon in under four hours.  My wife said that she found that to be "laughable".   I suppose she was right. I had never run a road race in my life.  In fact, I had never timed a run before.  I was 40 pounds overweight and had not run a mile in probably 3 years.  And I really did not workout those years, either.  And while I had never committed to run the NY marathon, I had said many times before that I was going to lose weight, get in shape, etc., and never did.  So, she was probably right, even though she regrets saying that and since then has been very supportive of all things running.

I bought Hal Higdon's basic marathoning book and concluded it was not going to be so simple or as easy as I thought.  First, I lost weight.  And, while dieting, began to run some.  Then after months of dieting and light running, I started training. When I started timing myself, I found that, remarkably, I could still run distance pretty well and sort of fast.  And that I enjoyed it. I found it mind clearing. And also, it is one thing for ME.  Not for work, not for the kids, not for anything, but me.  And that running gives me a tremendous amount of self satisfaction.  I remember that my first 20 mile run was in the rain.  My wife thought I was insane, getting up at 6 am (which I NEVER do) and running 20 miles in the rain.  But I did, and that self satisfaction is hard to describe.  That is what brings me back.  That feeling of... I did that.  And I felt good, and strong and that feeling is the product of work and years of sacrifice and dedication.  I may have personal and professional successes and failures, but none of that matters when I put my shoes on and hit the road.

I have never won a race, or even placed in the top 10 or 25.  In many ways, I don't even race, so much as just run.   I admire those with the consistency, dedication and commitment to train to win, but for me it is not the end goal. For me it is to find that inner athlete, the inner self, to push myself physically and to challenge myself.  "The obstacle is the path."

Since that beginning several years ago, my running has gone in spurts, but mostly "on" as opposed to "off."  The "off" times really set me back; I add weight and just lose touch with the fit person inside.  It is a struggle.  Some struggle to get fast.  Some struggle to stay healthy.  I struggle to stay committed and dedicated in the face of work, life and family.  In many ways, it is why I started this blog -- to keep myself honest and remind the athlete inside of past success, and in the dark moments of my struggle to remember.

In closing then, I want to say to the people who read my rambling thoughts and notes, thank you.  I am flattered by your interest and words.  And I enjoy hearing about your triumphs and struggles to draw on inspiration for my own.

"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us."
Marcel Proust


  1. I love your story. You need to send your stellar race results (and they are) to that old x-country coach. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am still in shock that that coach went completely around you and didnt pick you? whaaaat? stupidhead.

    love the story.


  3. Thank you so much for sharing your story. With two young boys at home who may or may not end up athletes, it gives me some wisdom to help keep them motivated to achieve and excel in what they do best , whatever that may be!!

  4. Great great stuff. May I add it to my thread?

  5. Great history, Wolve!

  6. I love the story! Thanks for sharing!

  7. just catching up on your last couple of posts...sorry those shoes didn't work out for you, but I like your new layout!

    I agree with your view on running as your "me" time, and can't get over the job you did on your knee...great post, thanks for sharing it!

  8. Great story Wolve...seriously, I read your entire post. Thanks for sharing. We need to get together before the Fairfield Half, since once it begins, I'll be seeing the soles of you running shoes!

  9. Thanks for sharing your story, I really enjoyed reading it.

    Although I ran before law school, I had never run a race. The obsessing about running really started during law school, and was a huge stress relief. :)

  10. incredible story. wow.

    thank you for sharing it. You are right -- most of the time they [why I run stories] are "personal" - - but again.... thank you.

  11. That's a great story and incredibly touching! I can't believe you did all that mess to your knee and still can run like that. You are one strong guy.

  12. Great story Wolve..."that feeling of...I did that" Yup! I love that line. That's what does it for me too :)

  13. Thank you for sharing. Truly, I enjoyed it. I, too, think you should contact your old coach. He missed out, obviously.
    Very touching account of running...

  14. Hi NY Wolve,
    I just want you to know that I read every single word of this post. Thank you so much for sharing your very personal story. It is always a treat for me to learn interesting details that are unique to runners. Your story is touching and very inspirational:)

  15. I'm always a little jealous of the guys who knew forever that they wanted to be runners and who ran track and cross country in high school/college. Like you, I am a relative newby to the sport. I think it's interesting how different paths can all lead the same place.

  16. I really enjoyed reading about your journey. I'm amazed that the high school coach dismissed you when you clearly earned your spot. I'm so glad that you found the NYCM so inspiring- I can't wait to experience the race for myself!

  17. Love your story. The part of setting a goal and working towards it despite lack of support is especially inspiring. I really believe that we are happiest when we achieve something after some struggle. Getting the same result without sacrifice and hardship somehow is not as satisfying.
    Good luck on your continuing journey. I will be glad to follow it.

  18. I really enjoyed reading your story. It is nice to know we are all human and have struggles and success. I wish you continued success with your journey.

  19. I appreciate and enjoy reading your "rambling thoughts and notes"! Thank you for sharing! :)
    Honestly, I'm impressed that you'd even consider running after that major injury. I might have used it as an excuse to do nothing. Maybe, it was your inner athlete challenging you, the same one that keeps you coming back. I hope you always have running to give you that feeling of "I did that"!

  20. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I identify with a lot of it. Wow if that coach who passed you up for the 3rd place guy and beyond could see you now!
    Thanks for recommending SKYR yogurt--I found it a Whole Foods and LOVE it!

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your story. I can't believe the injury you went through. It really gives me hope. Thank you again for sharing!

  22. Great post and really enjoyed your story. So many aspects applies to all of us in some sort of way.

  23. Just saying hi and that I hope you are well!


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