On Running: Who Am I?

On Running
Who Am I?

I was riding by my old high school the other day and had to stop down by the track. It happens nearly every time I pass; it's like I'm drawn to the place.
Standing beside it, the memories came flooding back. The bleachers and the track surface are new, but it looks much like it did when I ran there.
I walked over the lanes and to the starting line, and then looked back at the homestretch. How many times did I run down that straightaway?
I turned around and began to walk a lap, a tradition whenever I stop there. I moved past the place where the team hung out during meets. I could almost hear the laughter and feel the strain of young relationships. Those relationships were such an important part of that time. Some of them ended on the track. Others are alive today.
I stopped when I got half way around the track and then looked back again. I imagined myself running 220 repeats, a core workout during spring track. I would run half a lap at mile pace then run easy for the next half to recover, before starting the next one. I ran hundreds of them in my years there.
I passed the high jump pit, a place where we would congregate on days that we didn't feel like running. I remember how the sun warmed the surface and how the soft cushion would swallow me. I would hide there until the coach came to pull us away.
I slowed down as I walked along the straightaway that I had looked back on just moments before, remembering all the times I had raced towards the finish line. There had been dozens of disappointments for every success, and I've since come to understand that this is how every serious runner feels. As a competitor, you stop moving forward when you become content with where you are.
I finished the lap and sat down on the track. It has only been in recent years that I've come to understand how important my time there was. My mind may have grown in the classroom, but my person grew on that track. And, if I had never run in high school, what direction would my life have taken?
Track season is over, but just weeks before the track was covered with runners, kids much like me when I was there. Relationships were beginning and ending. Dreams were forming and fading. Young people were growing and finding direction.
High school is such a wonderful, yet terrible time. Important decisions have to be made when the most important question of all has yet to be answered - Who am I? Sometimes I wonder how we all make it through.
I'm thankful that running helped me find my way.
I left the track, knowing I would stop again the next time I ride by. I can't pass the place without stopping. The roots of my passion are planted there.

Dave Griffin writes a bi-weekly running column and offers coaching to high school and adult runners of all levels. Contact Dave at dpgflyingfeet@aol.com.