In May of 2014, I was convinced that it was happening.
What is “it?”
At that time, I was just beginning to race regularly, and I was coming to realize I was capable of running pretty fast. I’d just run Brooklyn at what, for that time, seemed an impossibly fast rate (1:26:47), and I was contacted by the running store I was fond of (JackRabbit) to possibly feature in a commercial they were filming. I wrote here on this very site about how I was convinced I was on my way to some sort of success through running. I was planning to get coaching certified and maybe start some sort of organization based on running and education, sort of like the nonprofit where I once volunteered that merges squash and educational guidance.
But then I didn’t get the commercial (a friend of a friend did, actually), and although I did indeed become a faster runner (until I overdid it and hit a level of consistently-fast-but-not-otherworldly, where I am happy to remain as long as I can), my loopy ideas (which included possibly running across the entire country and raising money, somehow) faded into the background, and I settled into a gradual maturity I think I was avoiding.
You see, thinking running would become my life’s work was just an expression of the fact that I felt like I’d found something I was good at (and I was, and am). I hadn’t really ever felt that way - the way I felt while racing from my first marathon until the Boston crash - in anything aside from teaching. Yet here was a new skill I had the chance to turn into a life, I figured. And ultimately, my career didn’t seem likely to take me much of anywhere, so I thought this was a safer bet.
The truth is, you can argue all you want that we shouldn’t be defined by our professional lives, but if you want to feel your career is something in which you can take some pride, you can’t just turn off that desire.
I came to the realization recently that I have always, since I was a small child making up stories about superheroes that were suspiciously similar to me, wanted my words and my ideas to be recognized, and to resonate. I chased this without knowing so for many years, and went about it in wrongheaded fashion. It took me until (checks notes) 19th grade to find the right match for my skills and my needs, yet the present is here now, and unlike my fantasies about becoming some well-known person in the running sphere, there’s nothing unrealistic about my belief that my work - situated at the juncture between race, language, and adult learning, with other topics mixed in - can’t carry some serious weight so long as I continue to work at my craft. If the goal has always been recognition and resonance, the realization of late has been that neither is truly possible in an authentic fashion without a third “R:” respect. But respect for myself. With running, as with any other thing I’ve ever loved, I got so obsessed that I treated myself poorly. I’m in a place now where I refuse to cause harm to myself, and work as hard as I can to value my abilities and my experience. And as I enter (checks notes) 20th grade, it’s working well. I’ve started to have proposals accepted for both writing and presenting, I’m earning better grades than I ever have, and I’m also, here’s the key, really enjoying it.
The thing about running is that it doesn’t change that much. I’m not going to break new ground, and there are so many people in these races with their own stories to tell that we really should just be running our own races, as the cliche goes. I’ve run 9 marathons now and I’ll run a 10th (and final?) at some point in the next few years. I’m happy I chiseled a fit person out of the inactive person I was in 2011, and I’m going to keep my health and ability where it needs to be and then some, but if I never ran another race, NYRR would be okay. I can be vital in my field, eventually, and it seems like it has a good chance of actually happening if I continue to develop my nascent skills.
This is not any kind of goodbye to running. If I didn’t run, I’d be much worse off. And now that I’m not killing myself and running myself into the ground, it’s back to being a lot of fun like it was before I turned it into my entire identity.
It’s just that I always wanted my ideas to matter. And it seems like they just might. And that’s a strange but wonderful feeling.
When I was five or so, I used to skip in circles, just imagining things for no particular reason. I didn’t dare do this at school because I was teased, but I felt free to do it at home. And my relatives would sometimes ask me what I was doing. I always just said, “I’m thinking.” And I still am.