Running has become my life. Quite literally. But when I started, I hated running. It hurt. It was boring. My feet thumped along the pavement, and I couldn’t keep up with the high school track team as we slogged through endless miles in the snow. In reality, it was probably a four-mile run. Something I could do in my sleep now.
I ran my first 1500-meter race that winter, indoors. I was a sophomore in high school. My chest burned. Spit kept churning up in my mouth. My gray and blue Nikes pounded the basketball court, which served as the indoor “track.”
I finished the race in 8:38. It wasn’t even a mile long.
The next year I was in a different high school, and I needed to make friends. A girl in gym class invited me to join the cross country team. The thought made my soul cry. I flashed back to the indoor 1500. But if I was going to make friends my junior year of high school, I couldn’t turn down a team sport.
I laced up the Nikes again and trotted along. After a few practices, I realized I could be pretty good. Not a prodigy by any means, but decent enough, and I didn’t hate it. I bought real running shoes from Marathon Sports.
By the end of high school I had a 6:30 indoor mile and 6:21 outdoor mile. I ran about 22 minutes for the 5K cross country course and made the regional championship meet. I suffered shin splints and wore tiny track shorts. I called myself a runner.
I didn’t run much in college. I played ultimate Frisbee and did a few three-mile runs outside of practice.
Fast forward to 2009. I graduated college and moved to NYC. I ran a few races and was impressed with my 8:30 pace for a five miler. Maybe I can get good at this, I thought.
I started ticking off the miles, and in 2011 I ran the Brooklyn Half. I finished in a painful 1:55. I was hooked.
In January, I became the food and nutrition editor at Runner’s World magazine. Something I never, even in my wildest dreams, would have imagined.
But sometimes the universe (and the Twitterverse) smiles upon you. In October, Runner’s World picked up my hashtag, #Worst262Tips, which went viral. (It’s just what you think: sarcastic marathon tips like, “try out a new pair of kicks at the starting line. #Worst262Tips.”)
In a state of euphoria, I tweeted back and said “#DreamJob.” An editor saw it, messaged me and told me they had a position open if I was serious about it being my dream job.
Kids, sometimes dreams do come true.
People say when you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life. There is so much truth in that. I go into work every day and I’m surrounded by all things running. I run at lunch with my coworkers. I read back issues of the magazine to get ideas for future stories. I brainstorm social media ideas with Bart Yasso.
I’m not sure if there’s too much of a good thing. I just know that my passion and my work have merged and I’m a happier person for it.
Being fully engulfed in running makes it easier to get over bad races. I’m surrounded by people who understand how it feels to have a race go south. Like this year’s Boston Marathon. This was my third Boston but first as a qualified runner. It was a hot day and I’m still trying to get over my performance. Not that it was a bad performance, but it wasn’t what I knew I could do in better conditions. The (Boston) Marathon is an evil mistress.
I’m hanging up my marathon shoes for now—I had always planned for 2016 Boston to my last marathon for awhile. I want to focus on shorter distances. This is going to be more of a challenge now that my job allows (and encourages me) to run marathons for work (Big Sur, Chicago, Marine Corps, Disney). I really can’t complain about the work perks.
But for the remainder of the year, I want to break 20 minutes in the 5K (I’m 41 seconds away) and better my 5:38 mile.
And those are things I better do quickly. My 13-year-old niece is hot on my heels. A few weeks ago, I ran a local 5K with her. Last year she ran 21 minutes and change, and her dad asked if I’d run with her because she needed someone to help pace (and push) her.
Fresh off the Boston Marathon (13 days, to be exact), I told her I’d do my best. We ran together for almost the entire race. I told her to hold back so she wouldn’t burn out. We were side by side, stride for stride, until 400 meters to go. My stomach was giving out but I knew she had more in her. I told her to go. She looked at me quizzically.
She took off, entered the track, and I tried to follow.
“Catch her!” a spectator said.
If I do, it won’t be pretty, I thought, thinking about the severe stomach cramps.
As I rounded the final 200 meters, Alina crossed the finish, first place for the women, in 20:25. I finished 15 seconds behind her. My sister-in-law thought I let her win. Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t let someone win, kid or not.
A week later my niece texted me. She ran a 5:38 mile, with a 1:18 final quarter.
I have my work cut out for me this summer.
Heather Mayer Irvine is a member of North Brooklyn Runners. She splits her time between Runner’s World headquarters in Emmaus, PA, and Brooklyn, NY. Heather has a 3:31 marathon best, 1:34 half marathon best, and 5:38 mile best. You can follow her on Twitter for all things running, nutrition, and sarcasm: @RunsOnFuel.