If you told eighth-grade Zach that he’d be signed up to run a half marathon in 2017, he’d laugh right in your face. And yet, here he is, however many years later, earnestly preparing for a 13.1-mile race.
Eighth-grade Zach hated running. Really, all-grades Zach hated running. But I got myself into trouble over running in eighth grade. I can still see my P.E. coach holding a clipboard, logging finish times at the end of the school’s track as my P.E. class finished its once-a-semester mile.
He congratulated me, as I crossed the finish, for my first-ever sub-eight-minute mile, and I can remember hanging around afterward with my speedy classmates, who liked to brag to each other about their times.
The same two artificial camps always formed at the finish line on mile-run days between the elite “sub-seven club” and not-elite-but-something-to-be-proud-about “sub-eight club.”
I was happy that day to get high-fives and all from my new buddies in the sub-eight club, but I was an imposter. Though no one seemed to question it, I had definitely just skipped the last lap of the mile.
Don’t ask me why. The thought to cheat hit me as I finished a lap and Coach asked whether I was on my third or my fourth. I took a jealous glance at the finished faster guys and decided in the moment to take advantage of my coach not knowing how many laps I’d run.
My only mistake that day was that I mentioned it to my friend, Jon, on our way back in.
No one ever batted an eye at my quick finish, but Jon happened to mention the thing in front of my parents one day later that year. Suddenly, months later, I was in a whole tub of hot water.
To get to the bottom of things, my parents grilled me pretty hard on what happened that day, but I’ve always been a terrible liar, so it wasn’t long before they knew what I’d done. I tried to convince them that it wasn’t a big deal but they decided I needed to be punished for cheating.
For the next week, I had to run a mile every day at the track outside the local hospital. Collectively, those seven miles are probably the most I’ve run until more recently. I only challenged myself to run a mile on the track at Atchison High School on a day off from noon basketball over the summer.
I guess you have good reason not to believe me, but I finished the mile that day and the next day and the next day. I was running in my clunky basketball shoes until I decided I was committed enough to buy a pair of running shoes, and it wasn’t long before I upped the ante to two miles.
Any experienced runner would eat a two-mile run for breakfast, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Over the last six months or so, I’ve actually taken a genuine liking to running – it’s great for stress management, a good excuse to blast my angry music and a rewarding challenge.
Now, on a friend’s invitation, I’m signed up to run a half marathon in April in Kansas City. Following a 12-week training plan, I’ll be pushing myself gradually to increase my distance each Sunday until the race. What’s cool is that, if I’m successful, I’ll have bested my longest-ever distance each week, with the half marathon marking my longest-ever run.
I ran five miles Sunday – a task that, by its end, was surprisingly easy.
It’s as if practicing is making a difference (insert winking face emoji here), which makes this a great opportunity for me to offer you encouragement as you work toward your goals.
As a runner might tell you, “Just keep going.”