July 26, 2015
By Laura Stassi
“I’m not a runner, but I’m running.” With this seven-word sentence that was published one day and 13 years ago, I launched Runners Log, a series of freelance articles for the Richmond Times-Dispatch about my experiences as a “writer, not a runner” embedding myself on a YMCA-sponsored team training to complete the 25th annual Richmond Marathon.
I’d joined the training team after attending an interest meeting, where runner extraordinaire and enthusiastic volunteer head coach Don Garber promised that if we were already able to run 3 miles without stopping and dedicated ourselves to following the six-month program, we’d be able to cross the finish line of the race — 26.2 miles! And I’d pitched the series to the Times-Dispatch to ensure I had extra motivation for following through. (The editors, in their skepticism, agreed to start publishing the series after I had stuck with the program for two months.)
Garber’s promise was realized, and then some. Not only did I finish the Richmond Marathon (in a not-bad-for-a-beginner 4:49), I ran the Marine Corps Marathon the following year, and the New York City Marathon the year after that. In the years that followed, I competed in numerous shorter races as well, with a personal best of just under 2 hours achieved at the very hilly Charlottesville Half-Marathon. This writer was also now a runner for life — or so I thought.
The unfortunate thing about this world is that good habits are so much easier to give up than bad ones, British playwright W. Somerset Maugham once said. As my longtime marriage started falling apart and I went back to work full time, I forgot that running had been my physical as well as mental salvation. I no longer logged 25 miles a week; now, I was lucky to get in 25 miles a month. That number dropped even lower in late July 2013, after I fractured my patella in a dog-walking incident.
I moved into a little apartment on my own while still wearing a knee-stabilizing brace. Broken heart, broken knee, shattered dreams and then more losses: my job, my dog, my dad.
It’s taken me awhile to get back on figurative and literal feet but in May, I joined a training program through the Reston Runners and completed a 5K race in June, then ran in another 5K two weeks later. I clocked in at just over 30 minutes for each race. Still, it’s another start. And the new job I began June 1 comes with an automatic, complimentary entry into October’s Army Ten Miler.
Back in 2002, I didn’t consider myself a runner. I still don’t; that dusty label “jogger” suits me better. But my new life will include an old habit. For my physical and emotional health, I’m on the road again.