Why I Run
I started running in high school and found out I was good at it. A young kid at a new high school, I found pleasure and companionship playing many different sports but by my senior year I grew exclusively focused on cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track and so that was pretty much the end of playing team sports for me.
By the time I graduated high school, I was running because it was my way of being good at something.
I continued running in college because I excelled at it. For four years I was one of the best runners on campus – I had friends, fame, glory, and a sense of self. I was known as the hard-working kid, slower in pure leg speed but always willing to run the extra mile after practice. I would go above and beyond and do the extra workout, lift weights, stretch, even to stop by the track during a night of college partying and try to run a lap under 60 seconds.
By the time I graduated college, I was running because it was who I was.
I continued running after college because I didn’t know what else to do. I had thought I was a good runner, but living in San Francisco really upped my running game. I started running with runners who really were good: they won big city marathons, ran in the Olympic Trials, and made money doing it! Me, when I wasn’t running, I was selling shoes in a running store, hanging dry wall and trying my hand at bartending. Sure, I won a race here and there, and raced professional track in Europe, but best of all I learned to run in the rain. I had friends, but not a lot of them — and most of them were runners.
I moved to Tucson in 1993 to earn a PhD in American Lit, and then spent the rest of the decade trying to become truly excellent at two things nobody really cares about: running fast and deciphering the meaning of the white whale in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. I lived on the west side of Tucson, and spent most of my time reading and running, and then reading and running some more … and writing a few mediocre academic papers. I had friends, but spent most of my time alone. I remember one night I drove to pick up take-out Chinese food for dinner and when I walked in the restaurant I suddenly realized I was still in my underwear.
As a scholar I learned to push through the challenges, dig through the text, roam through my ideas until they collected in some sense of intellectual clarity. As a runner, I gained a drive to be outside, no matter the weather to slog through the heat, to revel in the rain, to navigate the rocky Tucson trails, to spot a coiled snake. I learned to plan a training program, to run a lot but also run less than I thought I should. I learned to back off a workout when my body didn’t feel good.
I learned much in my pursuit for excellence from my training partners, including Greg Wenneborg. Readers may recognize his name from local races, where he does all the timing. He is the one who is up before sun rise setting up his computers and scaffolding. But there was a time when he was a up before the light doing a 15 miler, day in and day out. He taught me to just get up and get out — once you’re out, all is right with the world.
We ran in the Olympic Marathon Trials together in 1996 – the highlight of my running career, that race showed me just how mediocre I really was in the pursuit of leg speed. Reasonable, but that’s about it. Around that time, my grad advisor began suggesting I look for different work, so I dug in deep and committed to reading more and writing better. The work paid off and I earned a Dean’s Fellowship, marking my scholarship as one of the best at the UA.
But around this time I realized that running and academic work could show me something else, too. For the first 20 years of my career, running and academics were mostly about me. Whether for the pursuit of knowledge or for the pursuit of leg speed, it was all about conquering demons, waking up and chasing whales.
After spending about 10 years in Tucson, though, things changed. My roots began growing in our rocky soil and I found myself truly committed to this region. Frankly, I backed off from my own hunt for whales and started teaching others how to find their own whale. I also stopped worrying about my own leg speed and started worrying more broadly about our city and our region.
Today I run because I want to help move Tucson forward, beyond its past as a dusty desert town. Now my goal is to show people how easy it is to get outside, to highlight our civic spaces, and to help raise funds for local organizations.
Why do I run? What drives me through it all? A private pursuit of private excellence. A drive to prove people wrong, a drive to go beyond my own limits, even if nobody in the larger world really cared about it. A drive to move a community forward to be the best it can be. All are great reasons to move forward and RUN!
December 13, 2016
Posted in: Move