One of my top 10 movies is Forrest Gump. While it is difficult to choose a favorite scene, I love the part of the movie when Forrest decides, out of the blue, to just start running. He spends the next three years, two months, 14 days, and 16 hours of his life running back and forth across the United States. While the beautiful backdrops and the soundtrack create inspirational moments in the film, I’m more drawn to WHY Forrest was running. Having just lost his dear mother and missing the love of his life, Jenny, Forrest did something more people should be doing—he worked on himself, and he did it through running.
Running has played a very vital role in my life. As a child, running races in the schoolyard, I never really gave the act much thought. I just took it for granted that I could run. But looking back now on 47 years on this earth, I can see many pictures in the slideshow of my life where running not only helped me physically, but saved me mentally and emotionally, as well.
In my 8th-grade year, I decided to start running cross country in Clarke County, Virginia. I remember taking the bus in the afternoon from the middle school to the high school for practices. At the age of 13, I wasn’t really concerned with winning races or bettering my 5K times. For me, it was more about the social aspects. I was getting to hang out with high schoolers, and specifically, high school girls. Not just any high school girls, either. These were good-looking girls who were also in phenomenal shape. I ran cross country through my junior year of high school, and while I didn’t acquire any major awards, I did accumulate many wonderful memories from the experience.
Before my senior year of high school, my family moved to the farm in Augusta County, Virginia. I did not run that year at Riverheads High School. Instead, I enlisted in the Army National Guard in November, and was accepted to Virginia Military Institute several months later. Running again became important. I would be expected to pass a fitness test for both the army and VMI. A short time after graduating from high school, I was heading to Fort Benning, GA, for two months in the summer. Early morning PT and formation runs in the soupy southern Georgia climate helped to prepare me for what lay ahead—the rat line of VMI. My running habits in the army and at VMI were more about meeting requirements and passing tests. I still had not developed a love for running. You could say it was more of a love/hate relationship. After graduating from VMI and fulfilling my six years of service to the US army, I took a break from running. That period of my life is a time I wish I could get back to. I would have made running a priority in those years, but hindsight is 20/20.
In 1999, while teaching at a middle school in Virginia, I met someone who was training for a marathon. I decided to join her and the next thing I knew, running was becoming a huge part of my life again. We followed a rigorous training schedule that involved increasing run distances over a three-month period in preparation for the race. In March of 2000, we ran the Shamrock marathon in Virginia Beach. Neither of us was out to break records. Simply running the entire 26.2 miles without stopping was the goal. I never did run another marathon after that. In fact, I never ran anything over 26 miles at one time again. Instead, I began focusing on shorter races—10K’s, five milers, and 5K’s.
Interestingly enough, I became much more competitive as an adult than I ever was as a high schooler running cross country. I started winning races and have a decent number of trophies and medals to show for it. My love affair with running was growing deeper.
Over the next ten years or so, I coached the boys cross country team at the same high school I graduated from and then at a high school in Forsyth County, North Carolina. The schools had very small programs, but the programs grew, and while we never brought home any state championships, my interactions with those young adolescents meant far more to me than some trophy stuffed into the high school’s trophy case. My hope is that, if anything, I helped to instill a lifelong love of running in my former athletes.
For the past 14 years or so, I have been getting up at 4:30 AM so I could get a run in before work. People look at me like I’m crazy, until I explain to them that I don’t just roll out of bed and start running. My morning ritual consists of sitting down with my coffee, thinking about the day ahead, sometimes listening to music, and generally focusing on me. Plus, I was a teacher for many of those years, so running helped mentally prepare me for the day ahead in a profession that came with its own set of challenges and stresses. Running was no longer something I did with little thought. Running had become something I couldn’t live without. Missing a day of running, for whatever reason, left me feeling like I wasn’t “in the zone.”
Four years ago, I left teaching and went through one of the most difficult periods in my life. My 15-year marriage crumbled and I watched my family dissolve. Through it all, I continued my early morning runs. I acquired a job traveling with the PGA Tour for six months of the year. Even being on the road for extended periods didn’t keep me from getting my runs in before the long days of work. Besides, the job afforded me the opportunities to live out my own Forrest Gump- type scenes. In January, I was running in Scottsdale, Arizona, as the sun rose above the desert mountains. In February, I was running on the beaches of Jacksonville, Florida, as the eastern sky slowly brightened over the Atlantic Ocean. Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Moline, Minneapolis, Hartford, and many other places became the backdrops for my morning runs. And, like Forrest, I was working on myself after having gone through extreme heartbreak and the lowest point I had ever reached in my life. I could easily say that running kept me alive.
The year 2020 saw my job with the PGA Tour come to an end due to the COVID-19 “situation.” Throughout the period of lockdowns, masks, and general hysteria, I continued my early morning routine of meditation and running. While others were complaining about gaining weight during the COVID-19 period, I was logging 30 miles a week in runs.
In my 47 years, I’ve gone from running just to be around others, to running for my life. I’ve seen the benefits physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. There are literally thousands of scenes in my mind of early morning runs from the deserts of the Southwest, to the back country roads around my parents’ farm, to the sandy beaches of Florida. After all these years, I guess you could say I still have a serious case of the runs.