Running changed my life.
Read that again.
Running changed my life.
This phrase can hold a different meaning for everyone at any level of fitness. Anyone who is considered a “runner” will not have the same universal experience. Personally, running changed the way I view myself and the world around me. It changed the decisions I made over the course of the past four years, which I believe to have mostly been positive.
Before I further explain how running made an impact on me, I must take a step back. As a child, I was always involved in sports. I tried my hand at baseball, lacrosse, and my first love, basketball.
As my peers and I continue through our lives, every now and then I wish I could re-live my childhood days where I would endlessly shoot hoops in the driveway, play PlayStation 2 and day dream about my custom shoe once I made it to the NBA — a good laugh.
I have always been an introverted person, but in high school I was very quiet. I never really thought of school as social hour. I just liked to get my work done and go home or go to practice.
Maybe it was the environment I was in, or I just didn’t like being vulnerable.
As a racially ambiguous kid struggling with his identity, I had a hard time trying to “fit” into certain settings without feeling the need to explain myself. I was rarely treated badly, but I just distanced myself. I felt like I had nothing to say and wasn’t fully comfortable with my myself or my environment.
Although I had not always wanted to run, it had a huge part in me being more confident in myself.
It wasn’t until after a decent 5k I ran with my father, to support him getting in shape, that one of my friends and one of my soon-to-be high school coaches joked about the idea of me running cross country.
I didn’t think they could be serious, but I reluctantly ended up going to a practice.
I claimed that I was training with them so that I could “stay in shape” for the basketball season.
But then I started to enjoy being there and I was slowly realizing that I was becoming a good runner. I was training with the top guys after only a few weeks. The people who were encouraging me to join them, saw this potential in me and that was a good feeling. That good feeling led to multiple AA District Team Titles and the State Championship my Junior year.
If you get anything from this piece, it is that you should take chances and try new things!
That foundation of encouraging others and the team-first attitude carried over into college for me. Helping Temple University’s program reach places it has never been before and building a base for the upcoming classes is more important to me than any time I’ve ever run.
I wasn’t a top guy by the end of my career, and I wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school, but I felt like I helped the team in the most ways I could.
Building a team culture can include things outside of simply running fast.
To quote Bob Marley, “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” I wanted to pay attention to the lifestyle I was luckily able to live. Being a student-athlete is challenging, but a unique experience most people don’t have. Towards the end of my career, I started to take a step back and tried to enjoy each individual practice.
I know this isn’t the most common opinion for hypercompetitive athletes, but I think sometimes we get too caught up in future achievements and what is going wrong in our realities.
Those things are important to compete at the highest level, but too much stress on a daily basis can have a negative impact on performance. Yes, I wanted to become a better athlete, but the full experience is what I will remember most.
There are definitely times outside of racing that will be more valuable to me as I grow older.
In making my running experience about the team and not about myself, I only learned more about the individual. I became more confident every year of college and my current self would not recognize who I was in 2016. Running helped me feel a sense of belonging.
“Ok. I’m meant to be here.”
Although Philadelphia is a lot more culturally diverse than my hometown coupled with living on my own contributing to my personal growth, the confidence I gained from running was still probably the biggest catalyst of me moving forward.
Being confident in who you are allows you to use your voice in more situations where your opinion should be valued. This has always been important but it is becoming increasingly more obvious. Long distance running is a very homogeneous sport when you look at racial or ethnic make up, at least in the United States.
Although running is a life-long activity and the community is great, most groups of runners I casually pass on my runs typically look the same, and this can breed ignorance for other runners’ experiences for either causal or competitive groups.
For runners who aren’t in the majority, or anyone in a situation where they are the minority, it is important to shed light on how your experience may differ to help build a better overall understanding within the full community.
As someone whose background is complicated, I can assume my experience may be different from black cross country runners or other long distance runners of color particularly within the NCAA. There were certainly times where I wish I would’ve had certain conversations within my team and the athletics department as a whole, even if I knew it was going to be uncomfortable, for the sake of others and myself.
I know many other people feel the same or have acted in those moments.
It is hard to feel like people will understand you, especially if they might not take your non-running opinions serious. However, consistency and platforms like this can help shine more light on those individual experiences. Being confident in your ability on and off the course/track is important.
If you know yourself, I believe it is easier to speak on your experiences — no matter the environment you are in.
Moving forward, I don’t plan on competing at a high level.
I feel like I’ve done my time.
I am enjoying running on my own terms, when I want, and how fast I choose. Although I don’t plan on racing much, I still enjoy getting out there. Running is something that I will always do. It’s something I hold close. I imagine myself traveling back in time and having 14-year-old me give current me a weird look for telling him I’d rather run 5 scenic miles than go to the park and play basketball.
Running was the vessel for me to find myself, even though it was the last way I thought it would happen.
Running changed my life.
DONOVAN MEARS — TEMPLE UNIVERSITY
5000 Meter Run (Track): 14:46.24
6000 Meter Run (XC): 19:58.2
8000 Meter Run (XC): 25:16.90
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