I’m a runner.

Running has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My dad and uncle used to run marathons in Detroit and the surrounding areas. I remember going to Belle Isle to watch him finish and I was always in awe of every part of the race. I understood race magic before I was even a participant.

Then, sometime in late grade school and through middle school, I started running. I wasn’t consistent, serious or even competitive but I enjoyed it. I dabbled with it, on and off, for years. In my late 20s, I started signing up for 5ks, then 10ks. And, finally, when I was coming up on 31 and dad on 57, I convinced dad, who had stopped running marathons years earlier and was now “maintenance running” with his coffee buddies (and me), to train with me for the Detroit Free Press International (Half) Marathon. From July to October, we increased our mileage from 3 miles to 13. Dad trained with me though it was evident based on his ability to carry on a conversation while we ran that his pace could have been faster. He had been running for almost 30 years.

That race was spectacular – we ran over the Ambassador Bridge and back through the tunnel under the Detroit River, we encountered mariachi bands in Mexican Town and folks dancing a jig in Corktown, and lots of spectators all along the way. The race magic was high.

A few miles in, just as we were going to climb the Ambassador Bridge, I told dad just to go at his own pace and I’d see him at the finish. When I finally got to Ford Field for the finish, I was relieved and not nearly as exhausted as I thought I would be. I ran into the stadium and was surprised at how many people were cheering for everyone coming through the finish. I mean, seriously, the crowd was erupting in a way I would not have expected at a finish line expecting thousands of racers over a few hours. I ran through the finish, all smiles, and found dad. As I was removing the timing chip from my laces, I expressed to him how great it was that the crowd was so engaged and cheering that loudly for everyone that finished. He laughed and told me, “Tara, they weren’t cheering for everyone. The winner of the full marathon came into the stadium right behind you.” Doh!

So, here’s the thing. People often look at their accomplishment with a competitive or comparative eye. I could have felt defeated knowing that someone running 26.2 miles finished in nearly the same time as I did, running 13.1. I could have felt “less-than” because my dad, 26 years my senior, finished 10 minutes ahead of me. But, instead, I chose to be happy with my accomplishment. Happy that I did what I set out to do. Happy that I finished. Happy with my pace. Just happy… and ready to keep doing it.

But, that’s not exactly what happened. I woke up the next morning and couldn’t walk. IT band injury. I walked with a cane for the next several weeks. By the time I could run again, I had lost so much of the endurance I had built for the race and I let it frustrate me. Over the next fifteen years, life presented some challenges to being a runner (injury, asthma, demanding job) but I let those challenges become obstacles. That’s on me. And, while I was still running, I wasn’t doing it with consistency or seriousness. I didn’t do anymore races except a few 5ks here and there.

Two years ago, I can’t say what shifted my mindset again, but I set a goal to run another 10k. And, in June of last year, coming up on 46, a friend convinced me to sign up for a trail half marathon in July. I had never done much trail running and it intimidated me a bit… the hills! She said, “Just come run with us this week and see how it feels.” She told me she was sure I’d do better than I thought and I knew that if I couldn’t keep up, I could easily get myself back to the trailhead. I went on my first training run with her and another runner and we ran (and even walked… remember the hills?) six miles. I was hooked again. I did the half marathon the next month and another in September (with a broken collarbone but that’s a whole other story)! What an adventure.

I am not a fast runner. I am not a competitive runner. I’m a runner. Sometimes I just run a mile and sometimes a few. When I sign up for a race, I do it because it’s fun and it challenges me. My motto is not “In it to win it.” I’ve reframed that for myself and I like to say, “I’m in-ish to finish.” If I set my mind to do it and I train for it and I accomplish it, I’ve won!

That’s the spirit of 906AT. Our youth aren’t coming to Adventure Bike Club to compete with one another. They aren’t coming to compare skills. They’re here to challenge themselves, to improve themselves and to support one another. That makes them all winners, too. – Tara Gluski