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October 19, 2018

A Farewell to Former Times: Advice from a Washed Up (Almost) Has Been

Have you ever loved something so much you hate it? Like it just doesn’t make sense why you should love it, but you do? That’s my relationship with running. I know I am not the only person to ever feel this or the only runner to have these emotions. It’s a balancing act that I have only just recently have come to appreciate. Stepping away from something you love is rough, but quitting should never be an option for anyone.

At 25, I feel like I’ve lived many dreams. Some have been just that…dreams. Others have been so attainable that it hurts thinking of those former dreams. However, running has been the greatest source of happiness and pain for me throughout my career. But through the pain, I’ve found a meaning of love and how to cope.

It’s irrational to me. The sport is so beautiful. It’s an escape that’s therapeutic. It’s simple yet scientific. It’s a sign of dedication and a proving ground to test our efforts. It’s analogous to life. Consider it a fight against good and bad, the devil and angel on your shoulders telling you to stop and go. It’s a common ground between the elite and beginners. It hurts so much but feels so good. Whether you’ve run 3:52 or have never broken six minutes for the mile, we’ve all felt the pain of running down the homestretch. The sport grasps the primal competitiveness in all of us. It’s that feeling of digging deep inside of yourself to grab that last scoring spot or to run the 400-meter loop around your block just 2 seconds faster than last week.

I’ve been reminded of the beauty of the sport my last few months back since I moved back to Seattle from Flagstaff. Recently, while driving home from work, I watched as the local high school team crossed the street and I started thinking, yet again, about the love and hate of the sport. I see the NAU team crushing (shameless plug) and get so hyped. But when I try to get myself to run, I can’t do it. For me, running carries so much emotional baggage to it. I feel like I have dedicated so much to the sport and subsequently, it has changed my life in countless ways. In school, while my peers were getting internships at Microsoft and Google, my roommates and I were crushing miles in Boulder. While my friends were partying on Halloween, I was in my hotel room getting ready for PAC-12 cross country championships. It was a conscious sacrifice and I’ve received so much in return. It let me attend one of the best public universities in the country. It sent me around the country. It introduced me to amazing people. I’ve met my best friends through it. It took me across to Europe. All of that because of running. HOW SICK?

But it’s also a reminder of my failures. My freshman year of high school, I got spiked and sliced my peroneus longus tendon. Two years later, I ruptured the same tendon during a training run.

My freshman year of college, my brother’s best friend, a Notre Dame athlete from Yakima, a motivator and someone I considered a brother suddenly passed away. I considered quitting the sport.

Sophomore year, I had a three stress fractures and two stress reactions – one ailment for each of my metatarsals.

Junior year, Pac-12 track, found out my grandma died 11:00pm the night before my race day, one day after the anniversary of my brother’s passing. Needless to say, I was an emotional wreck and had a BAD race, I considered quitting.

My senior year at the UW, I came down with mono. Followed by a series of unfortunate events, I quit the sport. I gave so much time and energy to the sport and I was robbed.

My injuries are nothing out of the ordinary for any athlete, yet alone a runner. But running is a reminder of bad times for me. I lost the joy of the sport and needed to quit. Subsequently, in September 2015, I tried finding my new identity. I attended Officer Candidate School with the US Marine Corps. I was going to lead members of the best basic trained military in the world. During the buildup to attending OCS, I watched “Jarhead”.

In one scene, Jamie Foxx’s character SSGT. Siek is sitting in the shadows of a burning oil field. He talks about how he can leave the Corps and make good money having a nice job. But he says, “Do you know why I don’t? Because I love this job. I thank God for everything fucking day he gives me in the Corps”. That was so badass, I was sold.

Fast forward to OCS. While running through the trails of MCB Quantico, I got a glimpse of my former life. Running with a pack, in boots and utes through the leaf covered trails carrying my M16A4. I felt the comradery again within my platoon. It felt like a cross country team. We did everything together and embraced the suck. We wanted to be here, we chose to be here. But while we shared something in common, we were all so different.

For the other guys in my platoon, they were battle-proven Marines. They had stories so fucked up beyond belief. Guys in my company were former drill instructors, combat instructors, Joint Special Operations Command personnel. Then me…who months prior was lying in bed with my girlfriend, planning how I’d manage studying for law school during my fifth year. What was I doing? Though the Marine Corps offered me a great opportunity, one that I will forever be grateful for, my heart was somewhere else. I ended up dropping on request because I wanted to run, so I left to go back to school to run.

I found myself in Flagstaff, Arizona. I arrived in January of 2016 and weighed 185 lbs. and was barely running 20 miles a week. However, I was finally an athlete (at least in principle) again. Having not run seriously since the previous year, I wasn’t sure how my season would go. But I needed that year to find myself. Somehow, during those 5 months, I lost the weight and had the best season of my life. Coach Heins then offered me a spot as a GA after that season.

It was during that season that Mike Smith arrived and I found the fire again. NAU won their first title. Stephen Haas took me Europe to help with Total Sports’ European circuit. I met good people, and greater runners. I decided to try it again. Fuck it dawg, I’m going ALL IN. With Mike as my mentor, I started training again. Running 120 miles per week, I was in the best shape of my life. I wasn’t only prepared, I was ready.

I found the bliss, the accomplishment I was looking for and the satisfaction I needed. I dedicated myself and felt right. As a runner I was stoked, as a coach, NAU had won again. I was ready to return back home. Although I never accomplished anything during that time as an athlete, I found I was mentally and physically capable of commitment and loving. I felt like after all my trials and tribulations, I made everyone proud.

Then March came. I had a slight tear in my achilles and tried running through it. Weeks later, I lost my best friend back home. Once again, it all felt like it was coming down. I had already planned on going home but I left Flagstaff not how I planned. I rode off into the sunset with my head hung low. But as we all know, home is never how we left it.

You’re probably thinking what the fuck is this dude’s problem. This guy is a goddamn psychopath, he has issues. But bear with me.

I found myself back in a place I loved so much but found that I now hated it. Not only could I not run without pain, I didn’t want to. The connotations, the people I met, the life I had, the opportunities I left, all wrapped in to the thought of running. I put all my eggs in one basket and not only dropped in but through it off a goddamn bridge onto concrete.

So here I am today, working in corporate America. Only months removed from the sport, I feel like it was a lifetime ago. This feeling isn’t new to people who have left their sport or choice, how do you leave the only life you know?

“Be comfortable being uncomfortable”, I hear Mike’s voice echo.

I recently explained my sentiments to a couple of my friends. I explained to one of them how I hate running so much now. But, it’s the only thing the brings me normalcy because that’s the only thing I know. But, as I was driving home from work, I watched as a local high school team ran across the street smiling and laughing. I was filled with all types of emotions. When I finally get home, my roommate forces me out the door to waddle a few miles with him. He knows I need it.

As we run up the hills around Woodland Park Zoo, I hear my high school coach yelling at me to “lean into the hill” in his thick Irish accent I no longer notice. As I loop back around Green Lake, I start to feel the cadence of my Washington teammates starting to pick up. As I smell the decaying leaves on the ground, I’m reminded of fall and this mean cross country season. Cross country, the sport of fighting your own internal battle. Do I quit now? Take the easy way out? Or do I push and fight for my teammates. This isn’t about me, but the other guys on the line. It’s a sport of love.

Tim Cummings

So here I am, writing this piece for myself, someone who struggles dealing with emotions and their identity as a runner. For me and many others, running is life.

Life is running.

It’s a fight but not only for yourself but for those around you, your teammates. When it gets hard, remember why you’re there. The sport is a commitment, to yourself and to your teammates. It’s a sign of love. Love is the very heart of the sport. It’s ok to be pissed and to get mad. But for the runners getting ready for post-season remember your teammates are your family.

Here is my advice to those who ever thought about calling it quits: When it sucks, embrace the suck. When you get pissed off during a workout, embrace that emotion. It’s a sign you love it! It is not a sign you hate it. Now if you don’t get angry or pissed running, that’s ok. Maybe it’s not for you and its ok to step away for a bit. Sometimes you have to let something go to realize you love it. Fuck it, dawg, I did.

There is not a single coach in the country that will tell you otherwise. Stepping away from the sport might be good for you, it was for me. It made me realize what I truly loved. But finding the love is something you have to find yourself. No one can do it for you.

But don’t quit because it’s hard or because you get upset. Remember the joy you initially got from it. From the high school kids aiming to win state, to the college kids aiming to win a national title. When you wake up in the morning and don’t want to run, remember why you’re there and who you’re there for. Remember it the night before your race, remember it at mile 1, remember it with 3k to go, remember it at the homestretch.

Even though I’ll never be able to run at the same level I once did or never run at an Olympic Trials, I’m finding the love I once lost in it. I stopped comparing myself to the expectations of others. Grasp the small wins. Yesterday I couldn’t run 3 miles. Today I ran 4 miles. Though it’s a long way away from the 16 miles taht I would have run this time last year, I’m better today than I was yesterday.  And the best part is, I did it with my friends. We joked, and we laughed and because of that, I am better than I was yesterday.

Don’t let a hiccup stop you from chasing your love. Commit, and remind yourself why you love it.

Remind yourself, I love this shit and I thank God everyday he lets me to run.

Don’t let a hiccup stop you from chasing your love. Commit, and remind yourself why you love it.

Remind yourself, I love this shit and I thank God everyday he lets me to run.

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