When was the last time you did something for the first time?
I was listening to a podcast on my run and the host asked the question: When was your first run?
That got me thinking, when was my first run? The first running I can remember is during my time playing soccer, lacrosse, and other sports growing up. We never did a run test in gym class growing up. But in high school was the first time I only “ran”.
Freshman year soccer we would run as punishment for missing kicks or poor performance.
During hockey off-season training, we would run a mile down and back on a bike path close to the school – typically at the end of the “training session”, if we had not put forth enough effort during. (I use the term “training session” loosely because it was just a lot of movement, without direction or intention…Think “Insanity”-like, if you’re familiar with that program.)
Going into senior year of high school, I signed up for a marathon. Yes, wanting to run it, but also hoping it would help me lose the weight I had gained. Each step, seemingly impossible and plagued by those thoughts of wanting to be smaller so it would be easier.
In college, I ran laps around the track with a girl in my math class. Seven laps to a mile. Miles and miles on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after class. Each step, hoping it kept me away from the dreaded freshman fifteen.
Senior year of college, wanting redemption for the first marathon, I signed up for a second. Recruiting others to train with me, this was perhaps the first time it was enjoyable for me. Running with others, feeling that sense of accomplishment, and being the one in charge of the training program, was an enjoyable experience. I PR’d that race from my first marathon by an hour and a half. (Amazing what real training will do…)
All throughout these experiences, it was sporadic. I never ran for longer than the training cycle required. When the race, sport, or semester was over, I stopped. Only lacing up my shoes on a perfect weather day, when the mood struck me and running felt like a good idea. These times, I never timed myself, never tracked miles. I simply went out for a run, came back when I didn’t feel like running anymore.
Looking at all of these experiences, I see one thing: I was being punished. I was punishing myself for what my body looked like, or for a poor previous performance. I was being punished by a coach for a poor outcome.
To me, until 2020, running was a punishment. Then that all changed. Last year, in February, I went on my first trail run.
It was snowy and cold – the weather far from ideal. I didn’t know the trails I started on; I asked a member for a suggestion and forgot the directions halfway into the run. I had $20 shoes because I didn’t know if I would hate it and didn’t want to buy anything nice, in case it was like all of my other running experiences.
It wasn’t. I experienced trail magic. I’ve always loved being outside. But this was something else.
The cold air burning my lungs. Power hiking uphill to catch my breath and picking up speed, flying on the downhills. Planning where I would put my foot next to avoid the roots, ice, or rocks. I just kept moving forward. It was beautiful. (You know, until I realized I had no idea where I was and ended up tacking on 2 miles to what was supposed to be a 3 mile run, but that’s a story for another time.)
That run changed everything.
Since that day, running isn’t a punishment. It’s a gift. I look forward to those trail miles. I put in the miles during the week so I can perform and feel even better on the trails. I run to be able to explore the places only my feet would be able to take me.
Dare I say, I now love running? Even as I’m typing this, I can’t believe it.
What does this have to do with your new goal?
Because, to me, trail running is that new goal. I had all of the pre-conceived notions that I hated running. Honestly, I thought I would go my entire life never running another race after that second marathon. Though there were ones that sounded cool, why would I want to put myself through the training cycle and all of that running again?
Instead, I simply explored. I went on that first run with zero expectations. I didn’t have times, reps, sets, or miles on the brain. I just wanted to see what it would be like to do the thing.
I explored. I didn’t commit. I didn’t plan. I didn’t force myself to do it.
I just went out and tested it. If I never had that experience, I wouldn’t be running like I am now. I wouldn’t be signed up for a race if I didn’t go out and explore.
Go out and explore! Is there a health and fitness goal you’ve thought about but didn’t want to commit to? Why not just explore it? You don’t need to have a plan, end goal, or event in place. Just go out and see what it would be like to do it. Check if you actually enjoy it or you just like the idea of it on paper. After you explore, then you can make the final decision. But take a chance and explore first.