By Hannah Alderfer, BA, CPT, FMSC
I’ve been running and racing for 19 years. There’s so much history in those years and more to those miles than I could ever capture in a short blog. Running has been part of my life longer than it has not been. Running has always been something I’ve enjoyed doing, although there are certainly days that running has been more frustrating, difficult or the last thing I’ve wanted to do. And that’s why I want to share this quote from pro runner Kara Goucher, “Your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.”
I find this quote to be very true.
My first racing experience was during track and field day in elementary school. That was when we got the opportunity to compete in the “long run,” a one-lap race around our school’s playground. I was the only girl to sign up and I also beat most of the boys. From my earliest days, I loved the feeling of running and I loved to run fast. Those two things have not changed today.
When I joined the cross-country team in seventh grade I was one of two girls to sign up. My first race was in McDonald, Ohio and I got lost several times on the course, having to stop and look around. Eventually I was directed by spectators on which way to go. I got third place and was pretty happy with myself. The next race I won. By the end of middle school I held the school 2-mile cross country record and had beaten the 1600-meter record in track, running a time of 5:34. As I entered my freshman year of high school I was winning many of the local meets and placing high at the Invitationals. By my senior year I was the leading scorer for my track team (a team which won our County and District championship all 4 years) and I had come away with 3 visits to the State Championship, getting to stand on the podium twice for the 3200-meter in track. While in high school I was a good runner, but there were easily hundreds of other girls who could run as well as me. I had the talent to be pushed but I had a coach who simply repeated the same workouts year after year and never truly got me past my comfort zone. I was hard on myself when I raced poorly and I only was happy when I felt I did well. I also became frustrated with my teammates who ran merely to have something to do and would complain about everything from the heat to the cold to the rain to the hard hills to the early mornings and so on. I loved to run or at least I had, but why didn’t they?
I went on to run for Malone University under the legendary coaching of Jack Hazen and his excellent coaching staff. This is where I learned the science of running, but also found the pure joy of running again. I was able to drop my 5K time by nearly 2 minutes and place for the varsity team. Choosing to run for Malone was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and not just because of my running success. What I learned the most from my time running in college was not just how to race better, handle grueling workouts, tackle long runs, and push myself past what I thought I was capable of, but to truly find the enjoyment I had lost in running. I feared going to college was going to make running seem like a job - put in the hours and hard work and get the rewards. But it was the complete opposite. I once again found my love for running I had had as a kid. My teammates loved running and we would often say to each other “Run Free.” Free of the stress of competition, free of the feeling that we had to complete each workout perfectly, free of the pressure to do well all the time. We were running for a higher purpose than ourselves, we were also running for each other, and that is something that changed the whole approach to why we did what we did. It’s changed my outlook on running to this day.
After college I decided to run my first marathon, as that had been a goal of mine since high school. I competed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon in 2013 running a 3:10:53, which qualified me for the Boston Marathon. When I learned that I had run a qualifying time in a qualifier race, my husband said “You have to go!” We planned and I prepared for that first Boston Marathon, which was an experience I’ll never forget. Training each year brought on different challenges (hello Ohio winters!) and new ways to test my running knowledge and perfect my training plans for a course I was coming to love. As many people dread the winter months here in Ohio, I’ve come to have some fondness for them, for they always remind me of the solitude of training, especially the many long runs I’ve spent out on the roads listening to a good book or just with my own thoughts. I went on to run the Boston Marathon for 5 consecutive years (2015-2019), because racing there is unlike any other racing experience. Each year I finished in the top 1% for females. My highest achievement was placing as the 71st female overall in 2018 (and that includes the pro runners) and posting a personal record of 2:59:34 in the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in. And I don’t say that lightly, it was literally the worst conditions a runner could imagine. I also got to run one year pregnant with my daughter, something I never imagined doing before! Boston will always hold a special place in my heart. Hopefully, someday I’ll race there again. For my current season in life, I’m enjoying a “slower pace” of running, which often involves pushing a running stroller or getting out on the back country roads for some peaceful time alone.
Running has impacted my life in ways so that I’ve had experiences, learning lessons, and memories to hold to that I never would have otherwise. I’ve had my fair share of injuries, hard times and moments of needing to give myself some grace, but I’ve also gotten to experience some amazing things! I’ve shared in the company of running legends (such as Ryan and Sara Hall and Meb Kaflezighi) and raced the same streets as many of them. I’ve traveled across the country from coast to coast, running and racing. And most importantly, I’ve learned more about myself and those who run with me through miles and miles and I’ve been able to now teach others about running and how to find joy in something so simple.
Ask me about the number of times I’ve been on a run and felt like I solved all the world’s problems; when life’s dealt me what feels like a thousand pounds of stress and nothing feels better than running it out; when I’ve laughed so hard that I can’t even run straight for trying to catch my breath; when a crowd of thousands lines up alongside me to endure the same trial and to be triumphant in the end no matter the finish time; when I’m shuffling through snow and twenty degrees and the gentle snow muffles the sounds all around and the whole earth seems to be asleep; when good friends gather in the wee hours of the morning to run through summer fog and watch the sun break over the horizon; when I pack up my daughter in the stroller to ride along with me through winter and summer; when my husband and I take an easy stroll on the trail on a Friday evening or Saturday morning to talk about our week; when I remember how much grace I’ve been given to continue to put one foot in front of the other, every step is a gift. These are the moments when I am so grateful to be able to run. No, running is not always pretty flowers and sunshine, but the good days far outweigh the ones that seem more like work than enjoyment. I can usually find something in each run to be thankful for. And I encourage every runner to find joy in their journey of running as well, no matter where they are at. Thankfully, running is an activity that didn’t have to stop once I finished school and began a different phase of life. And I hope to continue to enjoy it for all my life and help others find a similar gratification in running too!