Back to Running; or when sports IS your life
I thought I would get a bit personal today and share with you all a bit of my story vis-a-vis running, what it has been (and still is) for me, and how it makes me feel. I think that we all grow and change in different directions over the years, and running for me has been a keystone marking two very different, and yet inseparable, points in life. So, while the story that follows has a lot to do with just exercising and living the life of an athlete, it also speaks of a sort of ‘race into adulthood’, where the emotions and memories attached to running speak of things way beyond the sport. I hope you enjoy it!
I was born active. As a kid, I was always outside doing sports. I started walking earlier than most kids and during my kindergarten days, my grandpa and I turned my my grandparents’ garden into a multisport arena. I know it sounds quite crazy, but, tiny as I was, some of these early memories with my grandpa are some of my most dearest ones. We went from shot-put to soccer, from highjump to javelin, from table tennis to long jump… We really tried it all! I learned to ski and and to ice-skate early on too, and though I tried track and field, snowboarding and WHATEVER in and out, it was basketball that hooked me. My dad played it at the time, and I simply wanted to be just like my dad. So, from the beginning of elementary school and until age 18, basketball was my go to. Indeed, I was obsessed with it, and spent every free minute of my day either playing it or watching games.
It was then that my parents suggested for me to get out of the country for a bit and go to the US to study for a year. Granted, I had always wanted to go to the ‘home of basketball’ to become the best player in the world; and so, I went, of course. To my surprise, however, the small town of Erie, Illinois, where I ended up in would move things in a completely new direction.
Upon my arrival there, in the summer of 2003, only cross country running and football were on offer. As a 67 kilo teenager, decisions like this come real easy, and so it was that I was cross country bound. For the next few months, the roads and parks of Illinois became my second home. I spent hours and hours running on roads, parks and golf courses. In recalling my emotions towards running at the time, I must confess I cannot say I loved it. I had some of the worst shin splints of my life running cross country, and would lay wide awake in the middle of the night with an adrenaline rush only from thinking of the next race and how bad the pain of exhaustion would feel like. I know it sounds horrible, and it pretty much was, but I was also, perhaps paradoxically, really talented at it. So much so, that I actually turned out to be one of the three top runners of the school.
I tried going back to basketball after that, during the winter quarter, but my playing was mediocre at best. So, with spring approaching and cross country achievements on my back, my school friends talked me out of baseball --which I was thinking of trying out-- and into track and field. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had found ‘my thing.’ That year, I ended up being the top sprinter of the school, running the 100, 200, and 400m in the single events and all three relays. The season concluded, much like the school year, at the 2004 Illinois State Championships. During my farewell party, my coach --‘Chief’-- handed me a note saying that I should probably stick to running because I had a talent for it even if I might not think so at that point. That was exactly what I did.
The years that followed back in Germany were some of my best. I grow slightly nostalgic in recalling some of the highlights and events. I got new personal bests with every new race, beating not only competitors in my age group, but also older ones in my state. During my second year, I won the Junior National Championships in 400m and joined Germany’s 4x400m relay team at the 2007 World Championships in Japan. What followed were another nine seasons of national titles, 3 European Championships (including one Bronze medal), 3 more World Championships (including one Final participation) and the Olympic Games of London 2012. The climax of my professional athletic career.
Needless to say, I went from a boy that did sports for fun to a man that called sports his job and pretty much his entire life. And though a sports career is probably one of the greatest ways to make a living while travelling the world with your friends, it is also incredibly demanding. It requires from you constant, uninterrupted physical and mental commitment. You work hard and keep your eyes on your objective every day, rain or shine. No excuses. 24/7. You time your life to the minute, and work and sleep to fit you training routine. You develop something of a stoic approach to work and life, and to the things that must be done for you to achieve what you really want.
But at some point along the way, at least in my case, I lost sight of the passion for running, the passion I was actually unaware I had had at the beginning while running those roads and parks in Illinois. I cannot quite say when or exactly how it happened, but it did.
Towards the end of my professional career, in 2016, I had already moved part of my aerobic endurance workouts to the road bike and was using Yoga to complement my daily practice. In fact, I got so used to it, that, over the months, I no longer needed to run at all. So I retired, a choice that was harder than what the words in this post transpire. The urge to run for fun had evaporated, leaving my running fully circumscribed to the hours I worked as a running and personal coach for others.
But things changed again last year when I joined a Berlin-based startup, RUNVI, as a sports Consultant. Part of my job there required me to undertake in-depth research on the biomechanics of running and keep an eye out out on the international running scene. Somehow, approaching running as an object of study this time allowed me to come face to face again with the beauty and simplicity of the sport. And in doing so, all those memories and emotions deeply stored in my heart came back along. A few months into the job, I was running a 10km race with my work colleagues and lying awake at night feeling the rush of adrenaline just like 15 years before.
And as soon as that race was over, I could hear the ‘what next’ question echoing at the back of my head. Sometimes, it works like that. It takes for you to give up something to actually realize whether you love it or not. So at the moment, I’m preparing for a Half-Marathon in Hamburg in early July and next on sight, the Berlin Marathon in September. From those afternoons with my grandpa, to my basketball days, my sprinter years, to long distance running, I guess I can say I have come a long way...