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My reason to run is just to run
Eight years ago this month I started running, and I haven't looked back. While I may be doing the same thing I was then, I'm a different girl now with different reasons to run. - photo by Kim Cowart
Eight years ago this month I finished my first real run.

I was barely three months postpartum and desperate to find a moment to myself. The day before I had purchased a pair of gym shoes simply because they were on sale. They just happened to be running shoes. Little did I know just how good these shoes would be to me.

While my first real run happened eight years ago, Id run before. In high school I, along with my fellow awkward teens, lumbered around the track four times for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably around 12 minutes. This task seemed so interminably long that we whined and moaned until our gym teacher gave in and allowed us to bring our Walkmans to push us along. To this day, INXS is a time machine taking me back to that red rubber track and a deep-seated fear that the second I stop, blood will pool in my legs and I will die (my teacher ruled with fear, and it worked.)

During my broke college years I would run on breaks to avoid gym membership fees. In the days before high-tech Garmins, iPods and even Internet accessible training plans, I would lace up a pair of generic shoes purchased at a local grocery store (thats not a joke), pull on a heavy cotton T-shirt and run circles around my neighborhood until the Depeche Mode tape on my yellow Walkman hit a song I didnt like (INXS was SO 1990). Thats when I knew my run was finished.

In the winter months, my cotton shirt and shorts were replaced with my green University of Oregon Duck sweats, and, if it was below freezing, my knee-length blue down coat. Still running in grocery-store shoes, I would run until my ears ached from the freezing wind.

Its not hard to see why running didnt stick. It was miserable and nothing more than a means to an end. My only goal was to avoid the freshman 15 (and sophomore 16, and so on.)

So no one was more surprised than I was when, as a 32-year-old new mom, I became a runner a real runner. A runner who ran to run. A runner who craved the endorphins and enjoyed the effort as much as I enjoyed the results. A runner who actually, dare I say, liked running.

Running wasnt a punishment for being late to class or missing a basket in practice. Running wasnt penance for a nights indulgence of burgers and brownies. Running wasnt even a way to spend time with friends. Running was my freedom, my time to think, reassess, prioritize, evaluate or just zone out. It was a time to sweat out the stress of the day and get back a little energy in return.

But happy endings belong only to fairy tales. After those first initial months of bliss, I got sucked into the more mentality more miles, more races, more speed, more medals. When my grandma broke her leg as a young woman, she sat around and ate so many potato chips she made herself sick. Shes no longer a fan of potato chips. Running was quickly becoming my potato chip.

It happened slowly, but I began looking less forward to my runs. I didnt get to run, I had to. I had to do speedwork. I had to tackle 20 miles. I had to shave off 10 minutes on my next marathon. Some runs ended great, and that flame that was there years ago would begin to spark again. But most runs were work. All that was missing was INXS to make runs feel like high school gym again.

I have a big birthday coming up and as with most milestones, a little reflection is in order. What do I want for myself and my family? Where do I want to go. What do I really want to do? What brings me joy?

I found some answers on a spontaneous family trip to Phoenix. For the first time in a very long time, this trip had nothing to do with a race. No expos, no pasta dinners, no pre-sundown bedtimes and pre-dawn wake-up calls. Our first morning, I woke up when my body told me to, pulled on my shorts, tank top and running shoes, grabbed my water belt and told my husband Id be back when I got back. I had a phone if he needed me, but reminded him that he really wouldnt need me (insert single-eyebrow raise here).

And I ran.

I ran not caring where I went, how far or how fast. I found a beautiful path, and a popular one, I might add. I waved enough to give Miss America a run for her money. Everyone running and biking was just so darn happy to be out there! And I was one of them! I stopped when my hamstring begged me to and my water ran low.

This is where I want to be. This is who I want to be the girl who finds freedom and release in a sweat-soaked shirt and quivering quads. I want to be the mom who runs 16 miles and has energy and time to lounge around the pool with the family without worrying about tapers and recoveries. The wife who can suggest a spur-of-the-moment trip to Phoenix to her husband without worrying about race schedules or pre-planned workouts.

I want to be the girl who runs to run.
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