Why do I run? (a brief view of my running journey)

Running, why do we do it? It’s such a crazy endeavor, right? If you ask a runner, there are many responses that you will hear. Typical responses will be “For health, for the competition, for the serenity, for the beer, etc.”

To non-runners, NONE of it makes any sense!!! They will say things like “I would only run that far if cops were chasing me”, “I don’t even drive that far”, “Running is bad for your knees”…and the list goes on!??

So, why do we do it? I will give you my perspective and my reasons as to WHY?

Running, has been a big part of my life for quite some time. I started running competitively in the 8th grade, at the age of 13. It was then that I found, I not only loved the idea of running, but I was actually pretty good at it. By the time I was a high school freshman, I was running sub 5:00 for the mile and racking up medals left and right in all the distance events. I would spend the next few years of high school making a name for myself on the track and getting onto the podium at the State Championships my senior year. I would then go onto Missiouri Southern State College on a track scholarship, before finally dropping out and joining the Navy.

While in the Navy, I continued to run and continued to improve. It was in the Navy that I met a good friend Kipkori Kirui. He was 10 years my senior, a native Kenyan (who had gone sub 14:00 for 5k) and a hell of a tolerant for strong beers and even stronger paces. When I first started running with him, he would thrash me, making me look like I had no business even calling myself a runner. I was good, had some talent, but KK was on a whole other playing field. But, after several months of training with him, something strange started happening…It began to take him longer and longer to drop me on our training runs and our speed workouts. He was still dropping me, but I was holding my own for much longer now.

Finally, and I remember this day like it was yesterday. We were out doing a 10 mile training run in Dubrovnik, Croatia and were hammering the miles on a very hilly course. My plan was just to try and hang on for as long as possible before getting dropped. We went out 5 miles, made the turnaround and really started cruising…As the familiar route we had just ran was getting shorter and shorter on our way back to the ship..I was still there, holding my own and giving it all I had. As we made our entrance into the docks, it was about 1.5 miles or so from there back to our ship…KK started pushing. When we weren’t running, he was the nicest, kindest guy I had ever met..but, when we ran, he showed no signs of emotion, pain or effort. His face looked the same whether he ran a 10:00 pace or a 4:00 pace. He once told me “Everyone is hurting at the end of the race, but the eventual winner is the one who doesn’t show it…never show weakness or suffering to your opponent and at all costs, control your breathing so that the man beside you doesn’t think he is hurting you”.

So, as we are winding through the docks and pushing the pace, I am only hoping that he is feeling as shitty as I am. We make a wide sweeping right turn around a stack of shipping containers and the ship is in site. This is when KK would normally open it up and demolish my soul…It’s a straight lined 800m sprint now!! But, as we are inching closer to the ship, I start pullling away..I look back in disbelief because this has NEVER happened before. I am thinking something is wrong, but KK wouldn’t tell me if there was..he just gave me that usual blank stare. Now, we are within 400m of the boat and I have opened up a pretty decent lead. As we finally reach the boat, stop and catch our breaths, KK approaches me and says “I knew it was only a matter of time”.

I know it was only a training run and there were no crowds of spectators, no prizes or medals…But at that moment, I felt on top of the world! During that phase of my running career, I was in the best shape of my life and over the next couple months would run my lifetime PR’s in the 1600m, 5k and 10k. That was a great summer of running and one that I will never forget. This was long before Garmins, so who knows how many miles KK and I accumulated in the hot sun of the Mediterranean. We saw some of the coolest places you could imagine, drank lots of beers and ran some routes than only a handful (or possibly none) of people have ever stepped foot on. I learned a lot about running (many of the Kenyan secrets), life and good friendships.

So, WHAT does this have to do with the reasons of WHY we run?? HOLD ON, I am getting there!!

Now, as I mentioned before, running has always been a big part of my life, except for a 4 year hiatus I took from 2006-2010. I had taken a job transfer up to Rhode Island from Va. Beach and started working on a project that had me traveling about 75% percent of the year to destinations all over the globe. As the story often goes, I started running less and less, eating a bit more and more, until I ended up at a whopping 218 pounds (I had started at 160). I was doing lots of drinking and smoking cigarettes (something I had never done before). I was non-stop traveling and it was killing my health and my relationship with Crystle.

Finally, in March of 2010, I had reached my breaking point! I had been working down on the boarder of Texas for about a month and putting in some seriously crazy hours…after a month of working down there, I had finished up the job and was driving to the airport (a Thursday afternoon), when my boss called and said “Hey, we need you to just fly from Houston down to Colombia, South America and spend a few weeks fixing some issues down there”. I was livid!! My response was, “well, I am not going, send someone else”. He then proceeded to tell me that if I showed up back at the office and didn’t fly to Colombia, I could expect to not have a job upon my return. At that point, I didn’t give a damn and had already been making some connections to jump ship.

That afternoon, I called a former employee back in Va. Beach, he offered me a job over the phone..I accepted of course. Then, the next day, I went into the office, put in my two weeks notice, finished out the next week and was in route (with Crystle and our belongings) to Virginia, 9 days later.

We arrived to Virginia on April 19th, 2010. Crystle was apprehensive and wasn’t so sure about leaving her family..but we knew that me not having to travel any longer would improve our relationship. Luckily, my closest friend and a brother of sort (William Tallent) was living in Hampton Roads with his wife, Sarah. William and I go as far back as 1999, when we were stationed on the same ship together.

Anyway, after a month or so of settling in to our new town, new apartment and new jobs, we were finally starting to wined down a bit from the move and all the anxiety had pretty much worn off.

So, near the end of May, William (aka Micky) asked me to run the ERR 10k with him…I thought he was CRAZY!! Now, there was a time that a 10k wouldn’t even phase me and would have barely been a warmup…but, this was a whole different Dennis than before. William had assumed that I was just going to jump back into the running scene and would be tearing it up right away…Well, he was wrong. That first race, I ran a 49:07 to William’s 44:23. He beat me by nearly 5 whole minutes!! Now, I am sure some people are thinking that 49:07 is respectable..and it is! But, I also have a sub 32:00 to my name as well. So for me, this was devastating. Right then and there, I vowed to make some changes and get running back into my life.

The next few weeks I started researching the area for local running clubs. I had known about the Tidewater Striders for years, but they didn’t have many meetups for weekly group/training runs. I was looking for a group of like minded people, Average Joes who loved running and having fun doing it. If I was going to commit myself to running again, It would be for “The Love Of The Game”, not solely to improve my times…I wanted to get back to loving running for it’s simplest of forms.

It was June 15th (a Wednesday)  and I was at my desk searching for running groups when I stumbled across a group called the Hampton Roads Runners http://www.meetup.com/HamptonRoadsRunners/ . After reading a few bio’s of the runners, I was hooked! This was exactly what I was looking for. A group of runners who were meeting up several times weekly to run together and have fun. As a former high school and college runner, I missed the comradarie. Throughout my running career, I have never been much of a solo runner. I would say that well over half of my lifetime miles have been logged right along side at least one other runner. So, looking at the meetup run calendar, I notice that this group was doing a “hill workout” for ALL SKILL LEVELS, the very next day (Thursday). I decided to give it a shot and see what it was all about. From the moment I first met the group, it was love at first sight..LOL! But seriously, they were all welcoming and encouraging. I certainly wasn’t up front leading the charge on the first workout, but I wasn’t in the back either. That first workout was tough, but I hung in there and left feeling accomplished. I knew this was the group for me!!

Now, here it is, nearly two years later and I am loving and enjoying running again (even more than ever). Because of the group and running, every aspect of my life has improved. Since joining the group, I have met some awesome people, Crystle has become a runner (and is improving daily..very proud of her), I become a member of Team Hoyt VB http://www.teamhoytvb.com/.

I have ran a total of 5 marathons (3 solo, two pushing for Team Hoyt). I will be running the Boston marathon for the first time on April 16th with Tim Brown and Team Hoyt. I have lost 60 pounds (now sitting in at 158). I have improved the first race time of 49:07 to 36:32 and I am happy and healthier than I have ever been.

So, what is running to me? Running is the joy, the anxiety, the fun and excitement of training days and race days…it’s the feeling of satisfaction of logging miles in raining, snowing, freezing or scorching conditions. Running is being a part of something, being a part of a team, being a part of a small group of people who all have one common interest. Running is about holding yourself accountable for something and then seeing it through from start to finish. It’s about goals and commitments, persaverance and accomplishment. Running can be agony, painful and brutal..but once you run through those walls, something magical lies beyond. Running teaches you things about yourself and those around you that you could never have seen otherwise. Running opens up so many doors and pathways to new adventures. Running is camraderie, loyalty and kinship. On a long run, you never get lost, you just have a longer run..the world is viewed much differently at the rythmic running pace than what it is via a car. I have run all across the U.S.A and all over the world and around every corner, there is always something to see.

To summerize, running has become as much of a part of my life as eating or sleeping. If I am not running, I am thinking about it, talking about it or writing about it. Is that crazy and obsessive? Perhaps! Do I care if people think it is crazy? Not one bit!

I love running and it is who I am. I hope that there is a long running road ahead for this guy. I hope to continue enjoying it all my days. I hope to help others love it and to help them find something in running that captivates them, the way that it has captivated me. I love my running families (HRR and Team Hoyt) and running friends. I think I would be completely lost without my training partners…runs would be much less exciting without them.

That is what running is to me! What is running to you?

I’ll end with this;

“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand  different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared,  truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy  mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process  of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the  bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. How could  they be expected to understand that?”

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