Not Running On Empty

By Michael Zeiser

A small fraction of the population participates enthusiastically in an activity that the rest of the population regards as illogical or crazy. Maybe some day everyone will understand our love for running, but I am doubtful. It is a difficult task to explain the reasons runners run.

I started running when I was about 12 years old around the hilly roads of my neighborhood. No one ever told me to run, and I don’t even know why I started running. I just did. Looking back, I think it may have been my first form of freedom. After the traumatic bike crash that every seven year-old has, I was afraid of riding a bike, and after driving everywhere with a mom who was so confident that she probably thought she could drive while blindfolded, I was scared of riding in the car.

Running was the only way to vent the stagnant pools of freedom in my mind. I was like a teenager who had just received a car, a monkey on the outside of the cage.

Every feeling that rushes through a person as he runs appealed to me — the comfortable strain on the legs, the smells of seasons, the tantalizing thoughts running through my head, the accomplishment of another run — all contributed to my love of the activity. My first official 5K in 2008 sealed my love. I woke up early in the morning and rode to the race with my dad and little brother. Before the race started, I saw my chemistry teacher from the previous year and even got to talk to him for a few minutes. Just this encounter with someone familiar gave me confidence and a memory that I will not forget.

Besides just being friendly, he encouraged me to continue my pursuit of things I loved, even giving me some potential races on later dates. This man was in his fifties, but he still took the time to talk to me and congratulate me, and that made my experience all the better

The race finally started, and I nervously ran forward with the crowd. I was just trying to have fun at that point. I even congratulated people between breaths as they passed me — “Good job.” About halfway through the race, I looked up for a second to the overpass and saw my dad and brother who had driven there from the start to watch.

“Go, Michael!” yelled my dad. I smiled and looked up, waved, and kept running with a new energy. As I ran up the last hill before the home stretch, I watched again as my dad and brother ran down the hill ahead of me to catch my finish just in time. Running down the last hundred feet, dozens of strangers cheered me on in my finish, as they did for everyone. I was very euphoric when I finished the race, not because I had done well, but because I had accomplished something. All the excitement blanketed any pain I had felt from pushing myself more than I thought I could.

As I sat down after the race, another man started talking to me about the race. Besides just being friendly, he encouraged me to continue my pursuit of things I loved, even giving me some potential races on later dates. This man was in his fifties, but he still took the time to talk to me and congratulate me, and that made my experience all the better. I still look for him every time I do a race, hoping I might get to thank him for his encouragement years ago. While I may never meet him again, I still appreciate what he did on my first race.

I continued running during my ninth and tenth grade years, but I was very hesitant to join the cross country or track teams. At this point, the primary reason I ran was the fact that I could think on my own without interruptions for an extended period of time. I was worried that joining a team would end the fun of running for me. Every time someone would suggest it, I would make an excuse — I don’t have time; I doubt it will be fun; I’d rather run on my own.

I held these excuses for years until I finally decided to try track in my junior year. To my surprise, I found a new reason to love running. I could experience all the pleasures of my previous runs while being part of a team and improving my abilities. I am still following my passion for running through cross country and track this year, and will hopefully continue even in college.

Michael Zeiser is a senior at McCallie School.

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