Then, after I left Cleveland in my early 20s, I moved to D.C. and began working as a staffer in the White House. My first year there, President Bush created a 5K race for about 200 people. I decided to do it, because how can you say no to running with Secret Service agents?
That was my first race, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Running is sneaky. It’ll lure you in before you realize it. I started doing more 5Ks. Then 8Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers [and half marathons]. Finally, four years ago, I finished a full marathon.
And then, I said yes to joining this crazy 1,000-plus mile relay that my friends invented to raise support for the Boston marathon bombing victims.
Here are just three reasons why I keep doing this crazy running thing (and why I’m trading in vacation days, home comforts, space and sleep to become one small link in the Run Now Relay chain):
- Being a “runner” is belonging to something bigger than you. I pass strangers on every run who give “the head nod,” or wave, or yell out support. There is solidarity in the running community and support beyond just running. When you encourage someone at the finish line, you are encouraging them at life in general.
- It is free therapy. I’ve processed work drama, friend issues and heartbreak all out on the trail. I’ve cried. I’ve laughed. I’ve tripped and fallen, but then I got back up, which taught me I can do that in other areas of life.
- Which leads to my last point: Running makes you feel fierce. When you push through more miles than ever before, or you run in nasty weather when others stay inside in furry slippers, you reach a deeper conviction about your own capabilities.
I remember struggling through a break-up once and a friend spurring me on with, “you ran a marathon, you can get through this!” It made me smile because she was right. Running taught me that I can persevere.
Running has become a companion to me. That’s why when Boston happened, it hit me more deeply than most tragedies. I remember walking into a meeting with my boss, and I was tearing up, just murmuring, “they got their legs … this is a running event, and they got their legs …”
That’s why I’m doing Run Now. If there was a way to rise up in solidarity with the running community that has embraced me all these years, if there was a way to give something to help the bombing victims, I was in. Those bombs attacked my fellow runners. They are the encouraging race supporters I depend on. Run Now stepped up as a response, so I happily stepped up with them.
So what do I expect from this ambitious journey?
I expect more head nods and waves along the way.
I expect some free therapy during stretches of time where it’s just me and the pavement.
I expect days when I’d rather be in furry slippers.
I expect barking dogs, rocky paths, sleep-deprived self-pity and days when my legs feel like they weigh 200 pounds each. I even expect some smelly relay vehicles.
But then I expect to feel the same way I always feel when I’m struggling to get through the annual Army 10-Mile Race in D.C. – and I pass a veteran running on a prosthetic leg.
I’ll feel grateful. I’ll remember why I’m running. I’ll remember what a privilege it is to be healthy enough to run. I’ll be fueled by those who refuse to back down after tragedy.
So yes, having done long road trips and even multi-day relay events, I don’t expect this to be easy or always entirely enjoyable. But I 100 percent expect it to feel meaningful.
I’m already inspired by the efforts of the relay organizers to come up with such a crazy idea. I’m inspired by the lengths to which some of my teammates have gone in order to train for this; some had never run more than a couple miles before. One is determined to run a marathon each day of the journey, and another has gotten up at 1 a.m. just to make sure he logged his miles. They’ve all worked to make sure we raise money — and awareness — for the victims.
That kind of dedication and humanitarianism is exactly what I’ve come to know as a hallmark of the running community. There were stories last year of Boston marathoners who continued to run several more blocks after finishing just so they could donate blood to the victims at the nearest hospital. That is the spirit of the running community I love.
That is the spirit I see in this team.
I can’t take away what happened last year in Boston, but I can stand in solidarity with runners and with the victims. I can do what those blood-donating marathoners did last year in order to help: I can keep running.