October 13 2017
Editor Caitlyn Pilkington parts ways with Women's Running and writes her final goodbye.
Why do you run? It’s a question we often ask our readers here at Women’s Running. To launch our new weekly series, The Editors’ Corner, I’m addressing the question myself by sharing the story of how I first came to pick out a pair of running shoes—and why, several years later, I continue to hit the pavement (or sand, or trails, or grass) multiple times every week.
I love running, but I also sometimes hate it. This has been true throughout my running career, and it’s true for all of my running friends. I’m lucky in that many of my friends are runners–and there’s a reason for that. To get there, we need to travel back in time to my high school days, when my running story begins.
Related: 10 Reasons Why I Run
Some of my friends have wondered aloud why I seem so starry-eyed when I talk about my high school track and field team. (Did you hear that chuckle? Yeah—that’s them as they read this.) As shy, stubborn and full of hatred for PE as I was, it didn’t make much sense for me to fall in love with a team sport. But the way I see it, that team saved me—and continues to save me, for some of my best friends today were among those I met while running for that team.
My freshman year in high school was rocky, marred by competition and jealousy that manifested amongst my closest friends before building into a final, awful crescendo. As kids, we tend to believe in immortality—not just our own, but that of the relationships we develop with friends and family members. We believe that words blurted in anger can be erased with heartfelt apologies; rumors spread as ill-construed pranks can later be unraveled by deeper truths. But as we grow, we begin to realize that this perceived immortality is an illusion. Words scar, friendships break and nothing is guaranteed.
It was after one such realization that I began spending lunch periods alone. I went entire days at school without uttering a word. I was becoming invisible—I certainly felt invisible. Lunch was torture, geometry was stupid and classes I once enjoyed like American Sign Language and English suddenly seemed pointless. And I’m sure I was a joy to have at home once the school day did finally come to an end.
Eventually my mother, gentle soul that she is, told me to get my shit together and move on. She took me running with her one day, and after that it was somehow decided that I would join my school’s track team. She probably remembers things differently, but I recall her marching me to a meeting with the head coach, giving very specific instructions about attending the first practice and refusing to pick me up until she was sure it was over. And thank goodness she did, because I never would have done any of that on my own.
The team I joined was small: there were about 30 of us that first year, though the team would grow to more than 80 runners by the time my senior year rolled around. Some of the kids knew each other from classes, but most were new to one another, thrown together by a common interest in running. I, however, did not share that interest—not at first, anyway. Running was the irritating cardio thing I had to do once each week in PE. I wasn’t slow, but I wasn’t particularly fast either. I certainly wasn’t fast enough to compete in any of the official track meets, and I told the head coach so immediately. He assured me that the decision to compete would be left up to me and predicted I’d soon want to. I wasn’t convinced. That first day of practice, I was sour and extremely sarcastic towards the crazy running people that surrounded me, though I was too shy to pull the sarcasm out at full volume. It was my mother’s fault for making me go to practice, it was the coach’s fault for making practice last so damn long and it was my former friends’ faults for putting me in this situation in the first place. Oh yeah—I played that blame game. I played it big time.
But something unexpected started happening. It began that first day, when one random girl approached me at the start of practice and offered me the seat beside her. Days later, a girl I recognized from my creative writing class struck up a conversation with me during a team run. A few weeks into the season, I stopped to walk during a group run and a boy my age also stopped and offered me a piece of licorice he’d swiped from the school’s vending machine. Running was becoming a social activity. I was starting to make new friends. I was starting to—dare I admit it?—enjoy those longer group runs.
I stopped resenting the team practices and began looking forward to them. I became proud of the track bag I lugged around campus every day, and I started pushing myself during my team’s weekly time trials. When the head coach announced that there was an open slot for a female 1,600-meter runner at the first invitational of the season, I timidly raised my hand and offered to fill it. Again, I didn’t expect to enjoy racing—the very thought of stepping onto a track in racing spikes made me nauseous (and still kind of does)—but I discovered I actually loved it. Listening to my coach and teammates cheer me on as I sprinted on burning legs was thrilling—these people believed in me and were rooting for me. They saw me, and they saw what I could do. The invisible girl became a competitive distance athlete with a team to cheer for.
I enjoyed being part of my school’s track and cross country teams throughout high school, but that first season was by far my favorite. That team gave me confidence at a time when I needed a reason to believe in myself. It gave me friendships that are still going strong and an enduring passion for an active lifestyle. It gave me a new identity, one I’m always proud of: runner.
So if you ever see me volunteering at a high school track meet and wonder why the heck I’m there…well, now you know.