Naatz: running provides so much more than just physical training
Tom Naatz | Friday, November 30, 2018
Athleticism has never been my thing. For instance, in my two years of youth basketball, I technically never made a basket. I say “technically” because in fourth grade, in the last game of my pathetic career, I actually hit a beautiful shot as I was falling down. However, in the process I traveled so blatantly that, when the ref looked apologetically at my coach as if to say, “I’m willing to count that because you’re losing by about 30,” my coach said, “No, he traveled.” That coach also happened to be my father.
As I reached high school, my lack of athleticism became a bit of an issue. In the place of regular PE class, my high school required every student to participate in one of the school’s sports teams. As someone with negligible hand-eye coordination, my options were limited. I picked cross country and track — basically by default. Six years later, I still run regularly, have run up mountains, taken brisk jogs in cities across the globe and have completed the Holy Half twice.
I’m not here to brag about my running abilities. Though I had a successful high school career, I wouldn’t call myself a good runner. My form is horrible. I run on my toes and a teammate once compared my running style to that of a dinosaur because of how I hold my arms. When I was a freshman in high school, the senior star of the team urgently told me to talk to my coach because she thought I was concealing an injury. Nevertheless, I am very proud of my wounded dinosaur stride.
The beauty of running, though, is that none of that really matters. The only equipment you need are shoes. You don’t need to be eight feet tall, you don’t have to be able to bench Earth, you don’t need have to suffer through the emotional trauma of putting a ball through a basket. Theoretically, you can just get up and go.
Obviously, you can’t just jump off your couch and run a marathon. The metaphor my coach always uses is that training is like a piggy bank: You put a little in every day and eventually you reap great rewards. Running is a process, but once you get through the potentially brutal first steps the sky is the limit.
I could write a book about the joy of running. It’s a great team sport because it’s egalitarian. It’s a great way to make friends because silent, hour-long jaunts aren’t fun for anyone. But most important, I think, is that running teaches us to push beyond our boundaries.
My high school was located slightly below the apex of the highest hill in Washington, D.C. The hill is so tall it is referred to as Mount St. Alban. The panoramic view the hill offered of the nation’s capital was great for the school’s social media game but condemned the cross country and track teams to practices that always ended on an uphill.
I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was going to die on that hill. It was a cruel way to end a 10-hour school day. There were times when the toll of high school, encapsulated in that god-awful hill, almost got the best of me. But through it all, I gritted my teeth and kept going. It would have been easy to walk the last 100 yards up the hill; I never did. Running taught the unathletic kid who couldn’t make a basket perseverance. Because of that, and out of gratitude to all the friends and coaches who helped me along the way, I will be a prophet of running for the rest of my life.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.