Despite cautionary tales of shin splints, achy backs and a lifetime of knee pain, most runners irrefutably know that our sport generally changes us for the better.
- Run for two weeks and feel your legs strengthen and posture improve.
- Run for six months and marvel at your increased lung capacity, endurance and speed.
- Run for 30 years and lose your leg braces, earn a scholarship to the University of Alabama from Bear Bryant, save Lt. Dan, run coast to coast and win your girl’s heart before she dies of AIDS. It’s a little known fact that 60% of U.S. runners follow the identical life trajectory of Forrest Gump. Who knew?
The benefits of running are both physical (build strength, fight disease, lose weight) and mental (release stress, counter depression, clear mind), and running for several months or years can build enough confidence to lure you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to try something new.
But while we generally think about the benefits of running over multi-month and -year periods, sometimes it takes less than an hour for a workout to change you.
At least that’s what I discovered at the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K this past weekend.
I woke up Saturday morning for my fifth race of the season and from the moment my feet hit the floor, I was in a sour mood. It was too muggy for a PR. I’d forgotten my running belt in Brooklyn. I left my apartment too late for a leisurely jog to the starting line and instead found myself sprinting two miles to the pre-race corrals in what is arguably not the best warm-up for a six mile road race. Needless to say, I was anything but pleased.
And as I grumpily caught my breath in those last few minutes before the starting gun went off, I saw something that unhinged me even further: a man dressed entirely in black and camouflage covered in anarchy patches and destroyed American flags pushing his way into my race corral. Holding a backpack.
I told myself he was harmless or lost or playing a cruel practical joke on the 7,976 runners out there that day, but I still couldn’t shake my unease after the events that shook Boston thirteen months ago tomorrow.
Luckily, the race began and I was able to put some distance between myself and the questionable spectator at the starting line. But as I picked up speed, my bad mood from the morning got worse and worse. Our sport has been robbed of its innocence, I fumed to myself as I trudged forward through the heavy, hot air, and I was downright furious.
As I made my way along the initial leg of the race course, I was agitated and shaken and a big old grump. I’m going to be in a bad mood the whole race long, I thought to myself. And I fully intended to be.
But much like it’s impossible to lick your own elbow, it’s also hard to maintain a bad mood for an entire 50-minute race. (You totally just tried to lick your elbow, huh?) I may have scowled that whole first mile, but as soon as a race marshal offered me a high-five along the East Side, I couldn’t help but concede a tiny smile. Another mile in, a volunteer in a purple wig sang Robin Thicke with embarrassing accuracy and it encouraged a laugh. As I rounded Harlem Hill, I watched a team of Achilles volunteers help a disabled athlete, and I found myself feeling downright blessed that I’m healthy enough to compete on my own and in awe at the selflessness of the running community I’ve been so lucky to become a part of. Tried as I may to stay angry, I found myself calming with each passing mile.
As I neared the home stretch, I spotted the camouflaged anarchist once more. He was still holding a backpack, but this time, he was reaching into it to grab a giant yellow gatorade to hand to his equally tattooed girlfriend who’d just completed the race herself. I know vigilance is important, but having your negative first impressions of someone shattered is a wonderful feeling indeed.
By the time I crossed that finish line, my sour mood had dissipated and I was grinning ear to ear. We all know running can change you, but, hey, turns out sometimes it only takes six miles.
How has running changed you?