It is cold outside. Really cold. I’m talking 12 degrees. If that. I’m sitting at my kitchen table watching as it tries to snow outside, but it is actually too cold to really stick. I’ve got two pairs of socks on and slippers, not including the fleece vest I have over all my layers. Winter in Chicago is grim. So grim, in fact, that I am headed back to Virginia on Friday for a week to visit my boyfriend before flying back to Chicago to then drive back to Virginia for school. Woo, that was a long sentence. Anyway, unlike most people in the city of Chicago, today I put on my big girl pants and went for a run. By big girl pants I mean fleece lined running tights, just for clarification. Now, if you are one of my readers you probably know that I am planning to run a race in March. Today, however, as I was cursing myself for signing up for another race because you can’t just show up the day and run it, it actually takes training, I thought to myself exactly why I love to run.
First, I’m not fast. I’m not just slow, I’m really slow. Most humans can probably walk faster than me. I average, at my best, and eight to nine minute mile; but that’s not why I run. The summer before I came to college I had two potentially cancerous moles removed. Then, my sophomore year my dad had some pre-cancerous lesions on his face. As I watched my dad go through the treatments and chemotherapy creams, I found myself really struggling to stay connected to him. I was far away from him while I was at school, and with skin cancer in my family, I struggled with the thought that my dad could be the next victim. My dad was an All American runner in college, and still runs with our family dog every single day. So, I decided after seeing one of my best friends complete the colonial half marathon our freshman year, that I too was going to complete the same half marathon. At this point, you might be thinking, “What in the WORLD was she thinking?” But let me just tell you, deciding to run this race led me on not only a path to get closer to my dad, but also a path that led me closer to myself.
I began slow, conquering distance and tough hills. I downloaded tons of music to my ipod, much to my parent’s credit card dismay, and forced myself every single day to run. Sometimes I was so sore I could not make it down the Bryan hall stairs to the basement where my dorm room was. I literally lived in my running clothes, and food became my best friend. As my body changed, my mood changed, my grades improved, and I learned to love getting lost. The best thing about going to school in a colonial town that also has forests and paths nearby, is that there will always be routes I haven’t yet explored, cute little colonial houses and farms I haven’t stopped at to catch my breath by, and always an abundance of trails in the woods to discover. Also, the distance from the stops of the Wren building to the end of Colonial Williamsburg is exactly one mile…just in case you were wondering.
One night during my training a friend of mine who used to be on the track team went out on a run with me. Now, I don’t know if you know anything about Williamsburg and ghosts, but we have ghosts. Lots of them. So naturally we decided to run into Colonial Williamsburg late at night. We are idiots. To keep me occupied from the incredibly fast pace we were running and how cold it was outside, we told stories. Ghost stories. No wonder I ran so fast, I was freaking out! But during my training I would call my dad and we would bond over hard runs and he would tell me what it was like when he ran in college. I ran with friends on long runs and short runs. I convinced people to ride bikes, skateboard, and in one instance, just drive really slowly next to me so I could have someone to talk to while I ran. I used the time to meditate, vent, and connect with old and new friends on campus. I explored Williamsburg on foot, and felt even more comfortable in the place I call home.
On the day of the big race it was freezing cold, snowing, and well, miserable. My dad flew in from Chicago and was there to see me run the race. Is it bad I’m tearing up writing this? Maybe just because I’m a sap…anyway, I digress. After nearly two and a half hours and practically coming in dead last, I saw my friends at the final turn where I had to run up a hill and into William and Mary Hall to finish the race. Along the way friends had cheered me on at watering stations, and one had even run a little bit with me. Then, as I turned that corner to finish out the race, my friends were there cheering and screaming with signs standing in the merciless rain/snow that was pelting down that day. As I crossed the finish line tears streaming down my face, there were all my friends waiting for me, and my dad. I threw my arms around him and yelled, “I did it!” I took on what I thought would be an impossible feat. A task to get closer to my dad became a journey to get closer to a campus, my friends, and most importantly, a journey to discover myself. The best part about it was knowing that through it all, at a school like W&M, I was never alone through any of it.
So, now I’m doing it all again in March. Who knows what is next? I was offered the ability to run the Chicago marathon for Northwestern Memorial Hospital…but that might be biting off more than I can chew. They’d probably shut the race down because it would take me almost a year to finish. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted readers, and for my sake? Stick to the treadmill.