“Run wild / I’m on a mission and I won’t stop / No destination but it’s worth a shot / You gotta let me go / You gotta let me go / You gotta let me go” (Thutmose & NoMBe, “Run Wild”)
Running. It’s one of those things that seems to be so polarizing — people either love it or hate it. For years, I fell into the latter camp. Well, not really. I was more ambivalent about it. I grew up taking dance classes from the age of 3 or 4 up until high school, which helped me stay active but it was more for fun. I did love playing outside and going for bike rides but I was never one of those kids who played sports. Except for the two seasons I tried YMCA soccer and realized I have no coordination. And I also took up tennis in my teens, but again, more for fun (I never played for a school team).
It wasn’t really until I got to college that I viewed physical activity as something I “had” to do, instead of just to enjoy myself. Mostly this was tied to my eating disorder, so I felt compelled to exercise. Surprisingly, I never went to the gym during undergrad — I mostly did at-home workouts to quell that voice in my head (and would still play tennis for fun when I went home on weekends or breaks).
I started my first job a few months post-graduation, and moved away to Tulsa. This gave me access to a gym right in my apartment complex, and I was determined to use it. And I definitely did, but I happened to discover something I enjoyed even more — running.
During my college days, I followed a lot of healthy living bloggers, many of whom were runners. I always thought wistfully about running, but then told myself it wasn’t in the cards for me. The few times I attempted going for a run, I felt out of breath and slow. It made me really question my fitness level. So I put it on the back burner, until one beautiful spring day in May 2014.
There was a great paved trail just across the street from my apartment complex, that ran along the Arkansas River and next to Turkey Mountain. I had never lived so close to water before, so it was magical to me (even though the river was often fairly low, let’s be honest). When I moved to Tulsa, I alternated going to the gym with walking along this trail for a few miles. But one day, I got the urge to try running. And it was like a switch had flipped on in my brain, and suddenly, I was obsessed (in a good way). I still wasn’t in running shape obviously, but for the first time, I felt like it was something I could do.
It started off slow, with walk-run intervals. I would run as far as I felt I could, walk for a ways and then start running again. A huge breakthrough came in early June, when I ran 5K (3.1 miles, for those not in the know) without stopping…in the rain. I was super proud of myself and motivated to keep going.
I invested in some better shoes (I first started running in Converse-style sneaks…bad idea) — buying my first pair of Nikes in November 2014 got me hooked on the brand and I haven’t run in anything else since. I bought some more workout gear, like cute sports bras and tank tops. I downloaded more music to my phone to help pump me up during runs.
I ran in all kinds of weather — rain, hot/humid summer days, cold/cloudy winter days with snow flurries, when there were literally tornado watches nearby (probably not my smartest move). Because my work schedule was so whack (when I first started running, I was working evenings from 1:30 to 10:30 pm, then switched to early mornings from 4:30 am to 12:30 pm and eventually to overnights from 10 pm to 6 am), I ran at basically any time of the day I could fit it in. Sometimes, it was before work in the mid-morning, sometimes it was after work at 7 am or in the midday heat, sometimes it was in the late afternoon/early evening soon after waking up when I worked overnights. I covered every mile of the trail across from my apartment that spanned from just south of downtown all the way to the suburb of Jenks, and even tried a few other trails that connected to it.
I even tried trail running at Turkey Mountain, and loved it. It was so cool to be so close to nature and enjoy it in a different way than if I were hiking.
When I moved to Tucson in January 2016, I was thrilled to discover that my new apartment was about a mile from another amazing trail that went along a river (technically the Rillito River is more of a wash and only ever had water in it after it rained). I ran there the first time just a few days after moving in and knew I had found my happy place. Unlike in Tulsa, I was never able to run on every segment of the trail because it was much longer, but it was even more beautiful and close to nature. I saw rattlesnakes and coyotes twice each, some javelinas once and so many lizards and roadrunners. This is where I truly discovered my love of the desert.
Just like in Tulsa, I ran in all kinds of conditions — during cold winter rains, on days when it was 105 degrees (or hotter), after a monsoon storm, while the sun was setting (my favorite time to go). I also ran trails at Sabino Canyon a few times, which was an incredible experience, being surrounded by saguaros and mountains. It was in Tucson that I began regularly running more than 3 miles at a time. It was where I truly fell in love with running.
I was definitely sad to leave Tucson behind in January 2018 because I wasn’t sure there were any running paths in the Phoenix area that could compare to those in the dirty T. And TBH, I haven’t found any that rival the Rillito River path. There are some trails that run along the canals here, but I haven’t run them because I don’t live close enough to them and there isn’t parking nearby. I ran once at Papago Park when my family went there to hike, which was amazing, but it’s too far away to be a regular running spot. I also ran once at the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert which is much closer and I would definitely like to go back, but it’s not the same as Tucson. I’ve mostly run neighborhood streets since I moved here, including a short trail that runs through my area, which is fine because before this, I had never run in residential areas. It’s definitely different and cool in its own way but I much prefer the trails I was used to in Tulsa and Tucson. I guess I got spoiled living so close to great running paths.
Despite this, in the past year I’ve run the most I’ve ever had. When I was unemployed I had so much free time that I could run most days of the week and even now, I run at least 4 to 5 days a week. The longest distance I’ve ever run is 7 miles, which I’ve now done a couple of times, along with some 6 milers and several 5 milers but my sweet spot is 4 miles. Running just comes so much easier to me these days, and I love it. That’s not to say that some days I’m not excited to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement. Once I’m out there though, my whole outlook changes and I can often convince myself to run further than I planned on. Having a killer playlist helps (I’m always buying songs on iTunes so I have new stuff to listen to), as do cute workout clothes and shoes.
I ran 110 miles in January, the first time ever running at least 100 miles in a month. I know some people can run 100 miles in one race, or even reach that mileage in a week or two so it doesn’t seem that impressive but for me, it is. It’s taken me nearly 5 years of running to reach this point, but I’m proud of myself for my dedication.
I know I’m nowhere near the fastest runner out there, and my usual weekly mileage is somewhere between 15 and 20 miles, but the fact that I run consistently makes me a runner. I’ve never run a race before (not even a 5K) and honestly don’t really have plans to because I run for myself, not to compete with anyone else. I know I could race just to compete with myself, but I know it would put me in a bad head space and I wouldn’t enjoy running anymore. I don’t need race results or other runners to motivate me (though I do start running faster when I encounter other runners out there, so thank you for that!), I can do it all by myself. I run to clear my head, to get closer to nature, to improve my self-esteem and mood, to feel alive. That to me is more important than any medal.
For anyone out there who’s just starting their running journey, and you feel slow, or coming back after an injury and feel weak, or maybe you’re like me and you’ve been running for awhile but you don’t run as fast or as far as the runners you see on Instagram — don’t doubt yourself. If you run, you’re a runner. Whether you can only run 5 miles or even 1 mile, you’re just as much of a runner as any marathoner. And you should be proud of that, because I know I am.
Are you a runner? If so, how did you get started in the sport?