Before road cycling and bike touring, there was running.
For 16 years, now half my life, running has been my escape, my therapist, my medicine, my church, my religion. I’ve probably run at least 50 races over the years, ranging from 5k to 50k and tens of thousands of miles.
I’m not a fast runner, though I’ve come in first female in small races, and on occasion come in top 10 for my age group. Sometimes, I finish among the last, and more often than not, I find myself a little faster than midpack.
I’ve brought my running shoes to Spain and Costa Rica, Australia and Belize. I’ve raced the lightning during a beach run in Puerto Rico and braved the frigid wind chills in Boston. I’ve succumbed to the lung-choking pollution in Chile and China. I had my mom send me a new pair of running shoes across the world when I lived in New Zealand because it was half the price of purchasing them there. My running shoes come with me everywhere I go.
I was reluctant to become a runner. Throughout my childhood, I played team sports like soccer, softball, and basketball. When my interest and skills waned during my junior year of high school, I still wanted to maintain my fitness, and friends suggested that I join the cross country team.
I am not a runner, I’d tell them. I tried track my freshman year and felt out of place.
One summer afternoon, I joined my friend, Lana on a three mile run. It was the longest consecutive mileage I had run in my life and felt swelled with pride once we arrived back to our starting point. Three miles seemed like an incredibly far distance at the time.
A few months later, and still doubtful, I decided to join the team. I could always quit if I didn’t like it.
But I didn’t quit. I often came in last on my team, yet always ran towards the applause and cheers of my entire team at the finish. I dreaded our long runs of six miles, but fondly remember the laughter I shared with two teammates, as we talked like old British ladies to get us through the run. I groaned at the mention of fartleks and hill workouts, however would admire my thinning figure at home in the mirror after practice.
It didn’t take long before I called myself a runner.
On Sunday, I ran what will likely be my last race for some time. The weather was unseasonably warm, as it’s been for much of the winter. The Hagg Lake Mud Run is meant to be a miserable race during the worst month of the year. Instead, we ran all 25K in the beaming sun beneath blue skies. Sure, there were still plenty of puddles and shoe sucking mud pits, but it still felt wrong.
I savored every moment of the run. I tackled the hills and enjoyed the views. I laughed as I slogged through the area known as the “pig pen” and splashed through muddy streams of water. I had a finish time in mind, but wasn’t pushing for a specific goal. I’d finish when I finished. I didn’t even bring my Garmin to check my time or how far I had left to go.
I crossed the finish with a grin on my face. Relieved to have finished the run, yet sad it had ended.
With our upcoming bike tour, it looks like I’ll be swapping my running shoes for my bike wheels. Of course, I love my bike, but biking is not running. Biking hasn’t been there for me in the same way running has. I’m convinced I’ll still run during our days off and that carrying the bulky shoes along will be worth the precious space.
The reality is, I don’t know if that’s true. I’ll likely need the days off to sustain my energy for the long days of riding. Or, I won’t have the energy to run at all.
The thought of not running is tough for me to stomach. It’s like losing my longest and most trusted friend. I feel like I’m leaving something important behind. Since becoming a runner, I’ve never not run.
At the same time, I realize that much of this trip is about letting go, and that everything is temporary. If I don’t bring my running shoes, I will run again.
Any runners-turned-bike tourists out there? Did you bring your running shoes on a worldly bike tour? Did you use them?