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Running in Runner’s World

November 29
by
Cullen Oliver
in
Sports
with
.

I am a senior member of the James Madison University Club Cross Country team and have been running since the 8th grade. Currently, I run anywhere between 30 and 70 miles a week. I compete mostly in road races and normally place pretty well, but as far as the competitive running community is concerned, I am about as average as they come.


Barring some radioactive Marvel movie magic, professional running is out of the question for me, which begs the question for many people: “why do you run?”

One of the best quotes I’ve ever seen about running is: “Nothing but the wanting to stop and the wanting to go on and the struggle between the two.”

For as long as I can remember people have asked me why I run or what gets me through the “struggle” of wanting to stop and wanting to go on. Most of the time, I give the cliché answer that most runners give, “if you have to ask then you’ll never understand” or “I want to be healthy.” Honestly that’s not true, not even close.

I can’t speak for all runners but I know I give the cliché answers because it’s easy and it avoids a deep, heartfelt conversation that normally isn’t appropriate for the setting in which the question is asked. For me, there are an infinite number of better reasons as to why I run that are different from the answer I give on a regular basis.

Right now, I want to talk about the most important two.

To begin to answer the question of why I run, one must take a step back and look at my life as an athlete. Growing up I played baseball, football and basketball and was consistently the smallest, slowest, and weakest kid on every team, yet I managed to perform well. As a fifth grader, I was asked to try out for an AAU baseball team and despite my shortcomings, I made the team and played with them for four years. During this time baseball was my life and I was hell bent on becoming a professional.

One summer evening when I was in 5th grade, I vividly remember sitting in my living room watching the Atlanta Braves play like I did every night, ball and glove in hand, while running around imitating everything that my favorite players were doing. After witnessing my enthusiasm, my parents decided to sit down and explain to me how tough it would be to become a professional athlete in any sport. I never really thought about it, I just assumed it was a forgone conclusion.

We argued about it the entire night and I was really angry that they were telling me I wouldn’t be able to do something I wanted so badly. Looking back now, I understand. It’s not that they didn’t think I could do it, but they only wanted me to be prepared and realistic about it.

This might make my parents seem mean and selfish, but in reality I won’t ever be able to repay them for the time they sacrificed for me to play sports. I love them so much for that, but the point remains.

This was the first time I was told I wouldn’t be able to accomplish something and it really stuck with me.

In 8th grade I was finally allowed to participate in Junior Varsity sports, but the theme from my childhood remained; I was undersized, too slow, and too weak. The only difference now was that things were getting more competitive. Just like my parents a few years before, people were more open about telling you what you would not be able to do and what you would not be successful at.

This resonated with me in a way that I cannot even put into words. I became the most competitive person in my high school and worked my ass off to be successful. And it paid off. During my junior and senior year, I%tags Sports was captain of the cross-country team, wrestling team, and track team.

I became the second best wrestler in school history and was the top runner on the cross-country team my last two years. But despite my success, people still had doubts and rightfully so… I was a decent athlete at one of the smallest public schools in the state. Nothing to write home about.

So the first part of my answer to the question of why I run, or even why I wrestle, play baseball, etc., is simply because I want to prove people wrong. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than doing what people say I cannot do. So for anyone out there who has told me that I cannot do something, or has doubted me in any way, I would like to extend my sincerest thanks because you have made me who I am today.

My next reason for why I run is the one that I think about every time someone asks me the question, but I have never had the courage to say it.

Before I get to this last reason I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about one of the biggest influences on my running, Steve Prefontaine. He was the top American distance runner of the early 1970s and died tragically in a car accident at age 24.

Prefontaine changed running in America. He made it popular and entertaining, and was well on his way to winning multiple medals at the upcoming world championships and Olympics prior to his very untimely death. I try to keep him in my mind every time I run.

After I think about Prefontaine, and others who were taken from us much too young, I think about what he could have been, and then I think about everyone else out there. Anyone who cannot run. Whether that is an injured veteran, a cancer patient, or just anyone with any kind of injury that prevents them from moving their legs the way I can move my legs.

I run for them. I run for Prefontaine.

I run for the older gentleman I saw just this morning walking down the sidewalk who could only take 5 or 6 steps before having to stop and rest.

I run for the victims of tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings.

I run for anyone and everyone who isn’t fortunate enough to have the opportunity that has been afforded to me. Running makes you feel free and I wish everyone had the opportunity to enjoy it the way I do.

People often ask if I get tired of running and the answer is yes, all the time. But then I think about people who aren’t physically capable of running and how awful that is, and any tiredness I was experiencing quickly disappears.

“Don’t take your legs for granted.”

That’s what I think and that’s what keeps me going. Its gotten me through 9 years of running, countless road races, 3 marathons, 2 half marathons, thousands and thousands of miles and hopefully many more to come.

It will not always be easy and it will not always be enjoyable. Trust me, I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of injuries and failures during my time as a runner and as an athlete in general. But each time that happens, I am inspired again to work harder than I did before.

“Why do I run?”


I run to do what others have continuously told me I cannot do and I run for the people who aren’t capable of running … you are my inspiration and you will keep me going mile after mile.

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