Maintaining Your Waterproof Shoes and Boots

Investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or sneakers is a smart move. After all, your feet are in almost constant contact with the ground and elements while you’re walking or running. Getting them dirty is part of the adventure, a rite of passage even. But, did you realize you should be putting in some routine maintenance to preserve the waterproofness and materials? Mud can degrade leather by removing moisture, and leftover dirt and sand can actually break down shoe materials through constant friction while you walk. Don’t stress, though. A few minutes can go a long way in extending your shoes’ useful lifespan.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cleaning Your Footwear

It’s important to keep your shoes clean and free of mud and debris. If you’re like most hikers, you probably change out of those squishy and smelly boots at the trailhead and stuff them in a plastic bag to be forgotten about in the trunk of your car. As tired as you might be after an epic hike or long run, it’s important to not let them sit for more than a day or two.

What you’ll need: water, a vegetable brush and/or toothbrush, and a mild soap or cleaner, like NIKWAX Footwear Cleaning Gel

How To: Begin by removing the insoles and laces. Next, clap your boots together or against a hard surface outside to remove any caked-on muck and stones or gravel that may be lodged in the treads. If sticky gunk like sap is an issue, throw them in the freezer to harden it, and then pry it off with a dull knife. Next, rinse them thoroughly with water while using a brush to scrub grime out of the tough spots. You can use a bit of soap or cleaning gel, but no harsh detergents that may damage boot materials. For extra-stinky boots, use a 1:2 mixture of vinegar and water. If you encounter dusty or sandy trails, use a vacuum with the hose attachment to remove the fine particles from both the outside and inside of your boot. Lastly, don’t neglect your shoes’ soles. Make sure to thoroughly clear them of trapped debris to ensure optimal traction and to prevent breakdown of the rubber.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Conditioning Your Leather Footwear

Full-grain leather, which looks smooth, is the only leather that requires conditioning. In turn, doing so keeps the material soft and pliable, which then prevents cracking.

What you’ll need: cloth and leather conditioner (NO oils like mink) like NIKWAX Leather Conditioner

How To: Leather conditioner is typically applied to dry boots, but check the manufacturer’s instructions first. Apply a generous but sensible amount of conditioner. While the conditioner helps keep the leather soft, too much can reduce the support the boot should provide. Use a damp cloth to remove excess, and buff to polish.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Protect and Waterproof Your Footwear

Luckily, you don’t need to re-waterproof your boots or sneakers after every use. You’ll know it’s time when water droplets no longer bead on the surface and, instead, are readily absorbed into the material.

What you’ll need: Waterproof wax or application like NIKWAX Waterproofing wax

How To: Begin with clean, wet boots with water fully soaked into the material. Generally, you’ll apply the waterproof agent, let it sit for a few minutes, and then, wipe away any excess, but be sure to follow the directions on the packaging. Waterproofing agents come in various forms, such as creams that get dabbed and liquids that get sprayed on.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Drying and Storing Your Footwear

It’s important to let your boots dry thoroughly to prevent mold from forming and materials from breaking down. A low-humidity environment is key, and you can speed up the process by using a fan or boot dryer or stuffing newspaper in each shoe. However, be sure to steer clear of heat, including fireplaces, which can damage materials and weaken adhesives. Dry the insoles separately, and do not put them back into the boot until both are completely dry. Then, store the boots in a well-ventilated area, and avoid garages and attics, both of which are notoriously damp and hot.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

When Should I Retire My Footwear?

If you keep up on shoe maintenance, they’ll last forever, right? Not quite. So, how do you know when to toss ‘em? The number of miles a pair boots or sneakers has traveled can be a decent rule of thumb. You can expect hiking boots to get between 500 to 1,000 miles, while running shoes can typically see between 300 to 500 miles. These large ranges account for the many variables that cause wear and tear, such as ground surface and conditions. Visually inspect your shoes every so often for frayed, cracking, or separating materials. Cracking of the sole, compression lines, and worn treads also clearly indicate you’re due for some new kicks. Also, pay attention to your body. If your feet or joints hurt sooner or worse than usual or if you’re starting to get “hot spots,” it’s probably time to retire your boots.

 

Taking a little bit of time to care for and maintain your waterproof footwear ultimately prolongs its use. Following these basic steps will have you and your boots on the trail to happiness for years to come!


Loosen Up: 8 Yoga Stretches for Runners

Short, tight muscles don’t feel great, and when it comes to running (or hiking or biking or any sport, really), they can lead to imbalances and inefficiency. Foam rolling and massage are effective ways to relieve muscle soreness and boost recovery, but a good stretch session after each run will help lengthen your muscles, putting them in prime condition to crush your next one.

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1. Upward Salute

Most of our post-run poses will address the core and lower body, but your shoulders and upper back deserve a good stretch, too! Spend a few breaths in Upward Salute to stretch the shoulders, back, and armpits. You’ll be surprised by how nice it feels. Begin by standing tall with either your big toes touching or your feet hip-distance apart. Relax your shoulders and rotate the arms, so that your palms face forward. On an inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and overhead, bringing the palms to touch. However, if that makes your shoulders feel too hunched, keep the arms parallel with the palms facing each other instead. Hold here for a few deep breaths. When you’re ready to move on, use an exhale to hinge forward into a standing-forward fold.

  • Variation: Add in some side bends to stretch your obliques. On an exhale, bend your upper body toward the right, keeping your pelvis facing forward. Inhale back to upward salute, and then, exhale into a left side bend. Repeat three to five times on each side.

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2. Cross-Leg Forward Fold

After spending a few breaths in a regular forward fold, return to standing just long enough to cross your right leg in front of the left. Fold forward again on your next exhale, reaching your fingers to the floor. Spend a few breaths like this, and then, repeat with the left leg in front. Adding the leg cross is a great way to stretch the outer hamstrings and address tight hips and cranky IT bands.

  • Variation: If your legs are too tight to bring your hands to the floor, use a stack of books or a couple of Nalgene bottles to rest them on.

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3. Figure Four Chair

The glutes are a key muscle used in running, and without good balance, runners would just fall all over the place all the time. The best part of this stretch is that it helps with both! Start by standing with your feet somewhere between hip- and shoulder-distance apart and with your hands on the hips. Keeping your weight in the heels, lower your butt toward the floor. Peek down at your toes here; if your knees aren’t blocking them from sight, you’re good to go! Once you’re as low as you can comfortably go, shift your weight onto the right leg, and pick the left leg up, bringing the left ankle to rest on the right thigh. Keep your hands on your hips if you like, or reach the arms overhead. Hold for five to 10 breaths, and then, switch sides.

  • Variation: Use a wall or chair to help keep your balance if you need a little extra stability.

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4. Squat

Hitting the road, trail, or track for miles at a time is a lot easier when your legs function with a full range of motion. And, an easy way to stretch and increase (or maintain) your legs’ range of motion—front, back, inner, outer, and from ankle to hip—is by spending some time in a “yogi’s squat.” Begin by standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and lower into as deep of a squat as you can while keeping your heels on the floor. If the heels won’t stay down, try placing a rolled-up towel under them. Bring your palms together in front of your chest, and use your elbows to gently press the knees away. Hold for at least 10 breaths, and then, bring your hands to the floor and step your feet back to come into a plank.

  • Variation: If your hips could use a little bit deeper stretch, spend a few breaths slowly rocking side to side before moving onto your plank.

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5. Plank

There’s a fun little saying in the yoga world that “the pose you don’t like is the pose you need,” and the proof is in the pudding—er, plank. I’ve never met anyone, runner or otherwise, who enjoys holding plank pose, but the benefits of this simple-looking exercise are so vast that it’s one we should all probably be doing every day. Runners can use plank to build strength in their core, glutes, and legs all at once—not to mention mental strength, which some runners may argue is just as important as physical strength.

On the off-chance you’ve never done a plank before, here’s the deal: The goal is to create a long line from your heels to your head. Keep the wrists directly under the shoulders, gaze down-but-slightly-forward to maintain neutrality in your neck, press back through your heels, and don’t let your butt sag or stick up too high. Keep your core engaged by “pulling” your belly button toward the spine. Hold for as long as you can, and then, use Downward-Facing Dog or Child’s Pose to rest.

  • Variation: There are so many! If a traditional plank is too intense, lower your knees to the floor, or try a forearm plank instead. If you want to spice things up a bit, play around with leg lifts, “running planks,” or side planks. Want to stretch the obliques some more? Lower to forearm plank, and do a few rounds of hip dips.

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6. Lizard Pose

Everyone wants a “tight butt,” but for runners, tight glutes are no bueno—especially when you’re trying to nail your hill repeats and speed workouts. Use lizard pose to give your glutes some post-run love, as well as to stretch the hip flexors, hamstrings, and quads. From your plank, step the right foot up to the outside of your right hand. Lower the left knee to the floor for a little less intensity, or keep it lifted for a deeper stretch. If it’s comfortable, lower down to your forearms; if not, continue pressing into the floor through your hands. Stay here for about 10 breaths, and then, switch sides.

  • Variation: If it feels okay, gently roll onto the outer edge of the front foot to open up the hips and stretch the groin and hamstrings a little more.
  • Variation: Add in a deep quad stretch by lowering the back knee to the floor and bending the leg, reaching back to hold onto your foot or ankle with the same side hand.

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7. Toes Pose

Whether your dogs are barking because you suffer from plantar fasciitis or simply ran a little too hard today, it’s important to stretch out the soles of your feet. Begin on all fours with your toes tucked so that the balls of your feet are on the floor. Keep it here if you can already feel the stretch through the bottoms of your feet; otherwise, start to walk yourself back toward a kneeling position. If you can bear it, sit all the way back on your heels with a nice, tall spine and hold for up to a minute.

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8. Legs Up the Wall

If you only have time for one yoga pose after a run, make sure it’s this one. Legs up the wall not only feels amazing, but it also gently stretches the hamstrings and lower back, helps reduce swelling and cramping in the feet and legs, slows down your heart rate, and can boost circulation. Start by sitting with one hip as close to a wall as possible. In one semi-fluid motion, roll your upper body down and swing your legs up, so that you’re lying flat on your back with your legs, well…up the wall. You can control the intensity of the stretch in the backs of your legs by shimmying closer to or farther from the wall. When you find the sweet spot, close your eyes and rest for as long as you want—you’ve earned it!

  • Variation: If your hips and inner thighs could still use more stretching, move the legs into a “V” shape for a wide-legged legs up the wall, OR bring the soles of the feet together and use your hands to gently push the knees toward the wall.

7 Reasons You Should Take Your Running Off-Road

There’s no denying that road running is a great workout. It’s perhaps the most convenient way to exercise, but it’s not always the most enjoyable. There are cars to contend with, it can be jarring to your body, and running the same few loops through your town eventually just gets boring.

If you’ve found yourself tending toward the “hate” end of your love-hate relationship with running lately, it might be time to try taking your runs off-road. Trails are a lot like roads, except they’re a little more challenging and far more enjoyable. There are plenty of reasons it’s worth switching from pavement to dirt, starting with these seven:

1. It’s a good excuse to slow down

Sure, running fast has its benefits—and getting faster is often a runner’s main goal—but slowing down every once in a while is good for you, too. The road, however, has a sneaky way of making runners feel like they constantly need to push their pace. When you hit the trail, the roots, rocks, uneven terrain, and steeper inclines naturally force you to run slower. In fact, expect a pace anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes slower than your typical rate. But, you’ll never feel guilty about it.

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2. There’s no traffic

If you enjoy the smell of exhaust, horns honking, doing that silly jog-in-place thing road runners do at intersections, and the risk of getting hit by a car, then by all means keep pounding the pavement. But, if you’re looking for a way to get away from all the noise, fill your lungs with fresh air, only stop when you want to, and not have to worry about being pancaked, it’s time to hit the trail. As a bonus, the animals you’ll see will generally be alive, instead of mangled in the middle of the road—just be sure to keep your distance from them.

3. The scenery is way better

Every once in a while on a road run, I’ll pass by a building or house that looks cool enough to make me slow down and stare for a second. Most of the time, though, there’s nothing truly fascinating or beautiful to look at when you hit the streets. Trails, on the other hand, are much more aesthetically pleasing, from the colors, including lush greens in spring and summer, bright reds and yellows and oranges in the fall, and enchanting crystalline whites in the winter, to the way the sun shines through the trees to reaching scenic vistas and overlooks. Nothing you see on the road will ever beat the magic of the wilderness.

4. You’ll develop greater proprioception

In addition to being a fun word to say, proprioception is hugely important when it comes to running. After all, without awareness of where your body and its parts are in space, you wouldn’t be able to run without looking down at your feet the entire time. With all of the extra obstacles trail running presents—things like rocks, roots, fallen trees, and water crossings—your proprioceptors get as good a workout as the rest of you. In turn, this leads to better stability, balance, and the ability to better judge when and how to adjust your stride whenever you encounter one of those aforementioned obstacles.

5. It’s easier on your joints

There’s a reason people refer to road running as “pounding pavement.” Paved roads are hard, and every time your foot strikes down, a shockwave runs through your body. Of course, our bodies are designed to handle this kind of stress, and for the most part, they’re really good at it. But, over time, it can lead to trouble, especially in your knees. Running on trails reduces some of that stress. Particularly, the ground is softer, allowing your foot to slightly sink in when it lands and absorbing some of the shock before it makes its way up your leg.

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6. It’s a better workout

Running on the road is an incredible workout. It builds strength in the legs, increases cardio fitness, and burns a lot of calories. Running on a trail does all of that, in addition to naturally incorporating lateral (side to side) movements by forcing you to avoid obstacles, improving balance, and potentially burning even more calories.

7. It makes you faster on the road

Because trail running offers a better overall workout—especially if you do your hill repeats in the woods, which generally have steeper, more sustained inclines than paved hills—your overall running fitness and economy will improve. Don’t be surprised when your road running paces start to get faster as you spend more time on the trails.

 

Now you tell me: Are you a trail running convert? What made you switch? Or, are you sticking it out on the road (and why)? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


8 Reasons to Choose Waterproof Trail Runners

Anybody who’s working through the Northeast’s 4,000-footers should have a pair of waterproof trail runners in their footwear arsenal. Lightweight and blocking out moisture, they’re the perfect shoe for getting to the summit and back quickly on those less-than-perfect spring, summer, and fall days. Don’t believe us? Here are eight reasons they’re the ideal rainy hike footwear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Light is Right (Even When It’s Raining)

Everybody knows that a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back. Since that adage holds true even when it’s dumping buckets, wearing these shoes is a great way to avoid a difficult choice between heavier hiking boots and lighter-but-not-waterproof trail runners. Not only will they allow you to maintain the hiking efficiency that you’re used to from regular trail runners, but they also provide almost as much weather protection as boots.

2. The Skinny on Being Heavy

Boots are also stiffer and less responsive, reducing your body’s efficiency. For every pound you put on your feet, you expend five-percent more energy. Five percent might not sound like much, but on a four-hour hike, that’s more than 10 minutes. Think of it as an extra 10 minutes to linger at the summit after the weather breaks.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Flash the Flats

Waterproof trail runners let you move fast and keep your feet dry on soggy spring days or when you encounter unexpected showers. Since they’re designed specifically for running, you can race across that ridge, sprint ahead of that shower, or see just how fast you can cover that flat.

4. Warming Up to the Idea

Although trail runners might not be as warm as boots, especially traditional full-leather hikers, their waterproof liners add just enough coverage to make them suitable for cool spring weather or a little bit of snow lingering high up on the ridge. Even better, they adapt great on those days that start cold but warm up fast.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Find Their Niche

Make the most out of waterproof trail running shoes by using them for the right types of hikes and conditions. Longer trips with lengthy stretches of flat ground and numerous short water crossings, like Bondcliff in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, are the perfect place to ditch the boots so you can cover the flats faster. They’re also ideal for shorter hikes, like Camel’s Hump in Vermont, where the support of boots isn’t needed—especially when you’re traveling through rainy and muddy conditions.

Pro Tip: When water levels are high, getting past a water crossing requires more than the right footwear. Check out this guide on safely crossing backcountry rivers.

6. No Need to Give ‘Em the Boot

Spring conditions—mud, rain, and repeatedly getting wet and drying—shorten the lifespan of both shoes and boots. Ironically, getting wet is what commonly leads to the demise of waterproof liners, as moisture brings minute dirt particles into the space between a boot’s exterior and its inner membrane. Here, the particles then slowly abrade the liner. Because waterproof trail runners are traditionally less expensive than boots, it is less painful to replace them when their time has come.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Quivering for a Pair of Trail Runners

Even though trail runners are typically less expensive than boots, no one wants to be constantly replacing a key piece of gear. One of the great things about them is, they are an essential arrow in your quiver, truly shining during mud season and rainy days. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to get a few years out of a pair.

8. The Right Choice for the Right Day

Maximizing your time in the mountains is all about matching the right gear with the right conditions. Waterproof trail runners are perfect for logging miles in damp spring weather or whenever your trip has a high probability of mud and rain. Although they’re a key piece of gear, a lot of occasions still call for traditional hiking boots, as well as non-waterproof trail runners.

 

We want to know which types of footwear you wear hiking. Let us know in the comments!


Checking Boxes: The Importance of Your Gear List

When you’re training to run a 100-mile race, you have to prepare for everything. You run on cold days, just in case it’s cold during the race. You run on rainy days in case it rains. You eat things that end up wrecking your stomach, so that you don’t wreck your stomach during the race. You wear things that end up chafing, so that you know what won’t chafe during the race.

In July, near the peak of my training for the Yeti 100-Mile Endurance Run, I decided to run a Pemi Loop. This 32-mile loop of the Pemigewasset Wilderness summits eight 4,000-footers, and boasts over 8,000 feet of elevation gain. The loop itself is no joke, but in the context of training for a run more than three times that distance, it seemed like an achievable endeavor.

It could rain during my race, too, after all.

I started my drive from Boston long before the summer sun had cracked the sky. But, once it finally got bright enough, I noticed the clouds lingering on the horizon. The weather forecast had predicted a 25-percent chance of rain, but I needed to be prepared for everything. It could rain during my race, too, after all.

I had previously hiked most of the peaks I’d be running that day. In my mind, that made it achievable: I just had to string them all together. But, by the time I had reached Lincoln and turned onto the Kancamagus Highway, the dawn’s distant clouds had consumed the area and covered my windshield in a light, hazy rain. I rushed to get on the trail, forgoing gloves for lighter-weight hand warmers and ditching my poles. I have a list of items that I take on runs and a separate one for hikes, but decided to travel lighter to save time and weight.

Credit: Kelsey Conner
Credit: Kelsey Conner

The first mile of the lollipop course, starting at Lincoln Woods, is old railroad. The flat, soft ground made for easy running and a quick warm-up. I took my rain shell off and tied it around my waist before even making it to the Osseo Trailhead, and I considered taking my rain pants back to the car. The tree canopy along the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River, and almost all four miles up Mount Flume, appeared dense enough to give me the illusion of dryness. Occasional raindrops penetrated still-green leaves, but for the most part, I was warm and happy. The mountain’s steep walls reminded me of the bear I’d seen descending a similar slope a week before on Mount Cardigan, but I tried not to think about it.

When I did emerge from the woods for Flume’s summit approach, with trees on one side of the narrow trail, and steep, rocky drops on the other, it felt like I’d been dropped into another world.

I was moving slower than I anticipated, but was still in good spirits. Clouds capped the nearby mountains and deep mud pointed toward wet conditions at higher altitudes. But, when I did emerge from the woods for Flume’s summit approach, with trees on one side of the narrow trail, and steep, rocky drops on the other, it felt like I’d been dropped into another world. Wind gusted and rain bit at my bare arms and legs. The previously humid, almost tropical air felt at least 10 degrees cooler.

I ducked behind a boulder to adjust my clothing. Sleeves came down, I put my rain jacket and pants back on, and I secured my hat. However, I immediately lost the blazes that peppered the rocks around me and had to retrace my steps. A pang of doubt threatened my independent courage, but I told myself to slow down and be careful. It took an active effort to push panic away and keep moving.

Credit: Kelsey Conner
Credit: Kelsey Conner

The summit of Liberty brought more wind and rain. I tugged my Buff over my nose and mouth, stopping for a single selfie with the summit’s rocky face. I then dropped onto the Appalachian Trail, whose kind white blazes conjured memories of warm summer days in my home state of Georgia—memories that drew a sharp contrast to the current conditions.

I was starting to question my sanity, and wonder if I should keep going.

At that point, I was drenched. My rain jacket soaked through to my long sleeves, and my pants proved their worthlessness. Their elastic waistband was losing the battle to wet lower legs, and my pants started sagging down. I pulled them up as I ran, wondering if they were worth even the idea of warmth.

Little Haystack came and went, and I was on Franconia Ridge. Here, I should have been able to see the entire loop from my exposed vantage point. Instead, my view was limited to about 25 feet in front of me. The rocks were slippery, and it took everything in my power to stand up straight. I joked to myself that wind resistance counted as strength training.

A tiny patch of trees between Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette offered some brief shelter, and there, I sat down on the ground, trying to catch my breath. Lafayette’s summit loomed ahead of me, looking especially steep and foreboding. The trees surrounding me shuddered under the wind, and their leaves whistled. I jammed one half of my peanut butter sandwich into my mouth, despite my intentions to eat it at the loop’s halfway point, the AMC Galehead Hut. I was starting to question my sanity, and wonder if I should keep going. The only other mountain run I’d ever bailed on was a miserable, hungover attempt at the Futures Trail on Mount Ascutney. There, I called it quits after a family witnessed me vomit behind a tree. Giving up wasn’t a consideration, until I looked up at Lafayette and started calculating the remaining daylight.

Lightweight doesn’t mean much when you’re freezing.

I was nearly six hours in and less than halfway through the loop. I’d estimated that the run would take nine hours total. Thus, climbing Lafayette and continuing through the exposure along Garfield Ridge was looking less and less fun.

Not everything seems fun in the moment, though, I told myself. Thus, I decided to make a last-ditch effort towards Lafayette. But, as I dashed up the slick rocks towards the summit, I was knocked to my knees. “You win!” I screamed into the wind. After a summer full of sunshine and smooth hikes, I’d taken good weather for granted. I had picked peaks I’d bagged before and assumed that I knew what I was doing, while failing to pack the just-in-case items. Lightweight doesn’t mean much when you’re freezing. My beloved gear list, several years and hundreds of adventures in the making, had proved its worth.

Credit: Kelsey Conner
Credit: Kelsey Conner

I regretted my decision to turn back for a short moment, but when I slipped back under Flume’s dense canopy and started to warm up, I knew I had made the right call. As a result, when September rolled around and I started packing for my race, I built a list more comprehensive than ever before.

I’d like to say that it rained during my race, and I was able to utilize all of my gear, but that would be a lie. Though I ran under blue skies and warm sun, I had everything I needed, just in case.


One Foot In Front of the Other

I used to think getting up at 5 a.m. to go for a run made me strong. More specifically, I assumed my body was the physical manifestation of dedication, hard work, and good, old-fashioned grit.

But, then, I couldn’t run anymore. Plantar fasciitis turned into peroneal tendonitis in both feet. My ego, once swollen with pride, slowly deflated. That fast time in a local Winter Chiller race that won me a CamelBak meant nothing. My personal record in the 2014 Wolf Hollow half-marathon felt like it never happened.

My ego, once swollen with pride, slowly deflated.

Injuries suck. The physical therapy copayments, the specialized compression sleeves, and the inability to do what you love make a recipe for self-loathing, self-pity, and an irrational sense that the world as you know it—the world where you get to run pain-free—is coming to a bitter end. Time I once spent running is now spent reflecting. What did I do wrong? When will I get better? And, will I ever set a PR again?

The author in 4th Grade.
The author in 4th Grade.

When did I even become a runner? I have been running for so long that I have a hard time remembering life before my morning ritual. Now, I have so much more free time. What did I do with the 5 a.m. hour before it was filled with sweat and miles logged?

My memory goes back to the dreaded fifth-grade gym class 1.5-mile. It was no secret that I was remarkably uncoordinated. Expectations were low, so I felt little pressure to truly perform.

I’d be lying if I said I remember every sweaty detail. Middle school was a long, long time ago, and now, I’m 33 years old and have two young children. From what I recall, I loved feeling my heart beating wildly out of control and felt a little surprised when I finished shortly after one of the most athletic girls in my class.

Mostly, I remember crossing the finish line, the kind of arbitrary line someone made by dragging the heel of their sneaker across the dirt. When my gym teacher yelled “go” at the start, I made the choice to empty the tank, and when I crossed, I had nothing left but pride. It was a type of badass I had never felt before, but have been chasing ever since.

Mostly, I remember crossing the finish line, the kind of arbitrary line someone made by dragging the heel of their sneaker across the dirt.

Before the gym class run, I had no track record of accomplishments. I never received failing marks, but I rarely received an A and often fumbled my way through team sports. For the first time in my young life, I had achieved something all on my own—something no one could have done for me. I felt tough. My shoulders, which usually slumped forward in shyness, were held upright. I felt like I should be noticed, instead of overlooked. Finally, I was good at something.

The author running the Loon Mountain Race in 2016. | Courtesy: Hannah Kokoski
The author running the Loon Mountain Race in 2016. | Courtesy: Hannah Kokoski

Running (and being good at it) has helped me stay strong when everyday life gets hard. Since being injured and unable to run, however, my definition of strong has changed. And, I have changed, too. As running less has decreased my aerobic capacity, my maturity has increased. I may not be able to run right now, but I can still get up early and choose to move around. I don’t love yoga, but I’m starting to like it, and it’s better than not moving around at all. Now, I want to be noticed not simply because of how fast I can or can’t run, but also because of all the healthy choices I make in a day.

Maybe I can’t lace up my Brooks and run my normal 3.3-mile loop right now, but I can continue to do what running, and life, has taught me.

Getting up at 5 a.m every morning never meant I was strong. It simply meant I loved to run. Strong is choosing to remain active when it would be easier to do nothing. Or, it’s getting up early and riding a stationary bike while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with my son. And, strong is not toppling over while the kids crawl under me as I try to hold downward dog. While running never felt like a chore for me, yoga, biking, and lifting weights all feel like work. I do these things because they keep me strong, so, when my injuries heal, I can return to doing what I love.

I can’t wait to run again, although I don’t know when it’s going to happen. Maybe I can’t lace up my Brooks and run my normal 3.3-mile loop now, but I can continue to do what running, and life, has taught me. I can continue to put one foot in front of the other.