Editor's Note: In this new series "Why I Run", locals will share what running means to them — whether it's how the sport has inspired them, changed them, or helped them overcome obstacles. If you'd like to share your own story, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why do I run? I've asked myself this question countless times. I've wondered why as I'm climbing a massive hill in the pouring rain, when I'm sneaking out at the crack of dawn while everyone else is still asleep, and when I'm anxious for a race to begin. It isn't until I climb the hill, return from my run, or cross the finish line that I remember.
I started running about four years ago because my younger sister Kate did it. Since I pride myself on being active and healthy, there was no way my younger sister was going to start this whole running business and be better at it than me. I started running for my ego and the competition with my sister, but the blessings that unfolded from lacing up my shoes the first time are still revealing themselves years later.
I'm lucky to have some of the best running partners life could provide. My husband Jonathan has traveled many miles next to me at an admittedly slower pace just to keep me from feeling bad about myself. Our dog Lilly has dragged me all over kingdom come with unfiltered and unbridled joy, restoring my childlike passion for throwing caution to the wind. My friends have spent countless hours in "Girl World" with me while putting miles beneath our shoes and forgetting all sense of time. My precious sisters have run with me because they know I love it even though most of them hate it, yet they endure for the shared moments together. It's those silent moments that bring us closer to our partners and the distance we travel together that form an unbreakable bond. I run because it brings people together despite their differences.
Sometimes the little moments that happen along a running route make a bigger difference than we could imagine. In 2014, Jonathan and I moved from North Carolina to Philadelphia and started a completely new life. Running was my saving grace the first few months as we became accustomed to a new reality. One particular run provided me with the "kick in the pants" I needed to look up and readjust my sights. I was having trouble finding a job, winter was horrible, and I missed home. So I leashed up the dog and headed out for a few miles.
Our first mile was fast, uneven, and negative. I was annoyed with Lilly for pulling on the leash and running through every puddle she could find, at Jon for being at work, myself for not finding a job yet, and who knows what else. Right after mile marker one, I accidentally stepped in a puddle. This wasn't just any puddle but the dark, murky, melted road snow, full of germs, frigid, disgusting, deeper-than-my-bathtub kind of puddle. It was so gross and so cold that I was ready to walk home and give up. I slowed down to cross the street and turn home but as I did I noticed the "squishing" sound that my right foot was making and so did Lilly.
I couldn't help but smile at her intrigue and remember how easy it is to entertain her. I crossed the street and picked up my pace, forgetting my intentions of giving up. Several miles and puddles later, we made the turn up the driveway and I realized how different I felt from when we left. I returned home with soaked, covered in mud, and smiling for the first time that day. I run because it gives me the chance to remember that I can't change the future or prevent things from happening--like running through a gross puddle--but I can control how I react to any challenge that life throws at me.
When life goes pear-shaped, my first reaction is to find my running shoes. Out on the road, life seems to fall back into place and reality is a little easier to handle. The repetitive and hypnotic sound of my feet hitting the sidewalk or trail has always made me feel like I am running away from negative vibes and towards a better mood. It has helped me to be a more focused and dedicated person on the pavement and in other aspects of life.
Running has taught me to plan for life's hills and showed me how to sprint through the tough stuff while making sure to enjoy the journey. I've learned that, in order to get where we want to go in life, we have to keep moving forward no matter how difficult it may be. Running has kicked my butt and given me a slice of humble pie at all the right moments while also embracing me in all the best ways. Being a runner is more than just being able to run, it's a lifestyle accompanied by a community of like minded people. Each runner runs for a different reason, but that is what makes it such a special activity. I run because it makes me happy.
Jenna Michael is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, runner, and author of Little Green Running Shoes. She has dedicated her life to helping others reach their healthy living goals through exercise and positive thinking.