Today, July 4, 2016, marks the 12th anniversary of my first road race: the Fairport Firecracker 5 Mile race. I have run this race almost every year since first lining up in 2004, including today’s edition (now a four mile race, but featuring all of the hills from the five mile route).
Back in high school, I used to “run” the neighborhood loop in Macedon, NY, or the trails on the hills behind my street to help get ready for the start of football practice. Later, when I was at Monroe Community College, I resumed “running” the loop for some exercise and as a stress relief from heavy course loads and a part-time job.
I say “run” because I had zero concept or knowledge of pace, form, running gear, stretching, technique, etc. I simply laced up old, bad sneakers, went out the door, and ran. And it hurt.
Many years later, I needed a new form of exercise to replace pick-up basketball (too taxing on knees and ankles) and Taekwondo (too taxing on budget). I was motivated by my then-wife who had trained and completed her first marathon. Once again, with no knowledge at all of the sport, I laced up old, bad sneakers, went out the door, and ran. And it hurt.
By July, I was running approximately two-and-a-half miles. My then-wife and friends from her training group were going to run this race on the 4th. She said she thought it was a 5K (3.1 miles – I had to ask) and it was flat, and asked if I’d be interested. I said sure! So, we went to Perinton Park in Fairport, walked to the start line, when she apologized profusely and said that the flat 5K was in Brighton (a neighboring town). This race in Fairport was a 5 MILE race, and it was hilly!! My jaw dropped. She asked if I still wanted to run it. I said, “well, I’m here. How bad could it be?” It took me a little more than an hour to complete the race, and as my then-wife and her friends chatted in the park afterward, I had sprawled in the grass wondering that the heck I had just done…
I didn’t quit. I got a brand new pair of running sneakers for my birthday that summer, and I continued running. I was hooked! I ran 5Ks, a 10-miler, and by October 2004, I ran my first half marathon (Casino Niagara Half Marathon – now the Niagara Falls Half Marathon).
Running provided a way to burn off calories, get in shape, improve my health, reduce stress, and have fun. However, during those early years, I obsessed with results. I always felt I could do better, run harder, finish faster than I did in my previous training run or race. I would get upset with myself for “having” to take walking breaks or not being able to hold a ridiculous (for me) pace the whole entire time. There were races where I was very pleased with my efforts and results (the Rochester MVP Half Marathon in 2007 is still my personal best for a half marathon at 1:49:49), but for the most part, I always felt discouraged.
From late 2007 until 2010, I barely did any races. There were financial hardships and a divorce. I still ran on my own, but my distances dropped dramatically. I resumed half marathon training for the 2010 Rochester MVP Half Marathon, but had to drop out two weeks from race day due to a nagging calf strain. I wondered if I’d ever race again.
I did. But with a much different, and healthier, attitude. I wanted it to be fun, so I focused more on simply enjoying the camaraderie of races, the Adrenalin of motion, the “runner’s high.” I had matured enough to accept the pace I was able to run at and be proud of how I finished races. Ironically, during this “running Renaissance,” I started to placed higher in my age group, coming oh-so-close to placing (top three) in several races. I also studied the sport more, learned about form, technique, running gear, strength training, and stretching from running peers and professionals.
Today, running is more than something I simply do. Yes, it is exercise, and it’s a very important part of my regimen. But it’s a way of life, a philosophy, an art. I have met so many wonderful people through running, from countless close friends to great staff at running stores like Fleet Feet Sports. I volunteer at races to help give back to a great community. It really is a thrill to cheer people on, to congratulate them, to help motivate them, to see them beaming when they reach that finish line.
Why do I run? Simple. I love it. I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
Below are some pictures from some great races with great people.
2016 Firecracker 4 Race (wearing the shirt from that very first race in 2004)
Approaching the finish line at the Buffalo Half Marathon (my 14th half), May 2016
Approaching the finish line of the 2015 Fairport Firecracker 4 race
(I ran on the Brooks/Fleet Feet Racing team from 2013-2015)
Team ROC City Splatter, Seneca 7 Relay Race, April 2015
77.7 miles around Seneca Lake – awesome time!!
Inaugural running of the Hug-a-Tree 5K, Sarasota Fl, March 2015
My first-time EVER placing in my age group (3rd place)!
2014 50 Yard Finish Half Marathon, Ralph Wilson Stadium (Half #9)
Being a long-time Bills fan, this race was a thrill to finish by running
through the players’ tunnel, onto the field and end at the 50 yard line!