I don’t love running.
I think it actually sucks.
I know, this statement also shocks my friends and coworkers who think I’m obsessed with and in love with the sport. People ask me “But how can you not love running if you choose to run all those miles every day?” Nowadays I have a nice answer prepared for inquisitive people, but it has taken me 14 years to find one.
My running career started in Central Park with my dad when I was around 7 years old.
I had my first taste of the running world in the kid’s 800m races before all my dad’s 5ks and I decided to join my school’s track team in the 4th grade. Back then our uniforms were baggy t-shirts and long shorts rolled up at least twice, and I was the only one “crazy” enough to run the mile. I was willing to run four laps on the track because I had realized my long legs weren’t quick enough to hit max speed during the 200-400 meter relay legs we competed in.
In high school I joined the track team because I was the new kid in town, and I figured I could probably make some friends at practices. After a great freshman season, I did what most distance runners do: quit soccer to join the cross country team.
Now THAT is a sport I definitely don’t love.
However, being a part of Warwick Valley High School’s prestigious cross country and track programs opened many collegiate doors for me. By the time I graduated from DePaul University, I had been competitively running for 13 years and my body was completely programed as a Division I NCAA middle-distance athlete.
I had been living, eating, sleeping as a runner for so long that it felt natural.
My body and mind were configured to racing seasons and the day it finally dawned on me that I was no longer on a team or competing anymore, I felt like I had lost part of my identity.
I spent my first year out of college living and working in Italy where I knew nobody and only knew enough of the language to order gelato. In trying to feel normal in a foreign country, I continued to run every day since that’s what my body and mind knew best.
It wasn’t until the spring that I had my revelation; I don’t like this running thing!
My run one day had suddenly been consumed with thoughts like “I don’t enjoy these solo runs and not competing. Why aren’t I racing around a track right now? Where are teammates that I can run, cry and laugh with? Why isn’t there anyone cheering me on or telling me to go faster?”
So, it was on that day while running in a grassy Italian field that I realized I didn’t actually love this sport.
I needed a team. I needed a race goal. No, running didn’t clear my mind or relax me. I needed a reason more than just recreational fitness to keep subjecting myself to running.
When I returned to the United States and eventually ended up in Washington DC for work, I immediately researched local running clubs. As the new kid in town again, I wanted to make friends. I’m thankful to have found my new team and to continue my running career with the Georgetown Running Club (GRC).
Even though I have found this group, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Racing and working out post-collegiately is tough in the beginning. You constantly compare yourself to where you once were and to the times you used to hit.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to keep getting faster and stronger after college.
Once I finally shifted my expectations and mentality, I was able to enjoy racing for a team again. All the life tasks you had help with in high school and didn’t have to worry about so much in college, like working 40+ hour weeks, cooking your own meals, or running errands suddenly creep up to you in the adult world.
The realization that I’m now on the starting line for myself and there isn’t a team depending on me to score X amount of points was the most liberating thought I had since my “I don’t love running” revelation in Italy. I’m not on GRC to qualify for X championship meets, set X records or please the athletic department.
I’m on GRC so I can still enjoy what I love. Post-collegiately, I have finally learned why I agree with everyone who says they “love running.”
I don’t love running, I love people and competition.
I run for those two things, not for the joy of running. For me, running means being part of a team. Running is sharing stories on warmups, cheering on the sidelines, giving breathless high fives after workouts. Running is texting someone good luck before their race. Running is the feeling of passing someone on the bell lap. Running is training every day so you can feel that euphoria of being faster than the person next to you. I don’t love running, it physically hurts. What I love is out-leaning someone at the line.
What I love is a group of people that “get” it; people who can understand all your running highs and lows even though they weren’t with you on that day.
Running is a community, and this community is what I’ll always search for no matter where I go.
JACKIE KASAL — GEORGETOWN RUNNING CLUB // DEPAUL UNIVERSITY
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