Running in the ARMY: The 1-Mile Run at Reception that Changed My Life

It took me three years of running to realize I love running.

Skateboarding, then snowboarding were the first sports I fell in love in with. I started snowboarding at 16 and moved to a ski resort town after graduating high school so I could snowboard all winter long. It was snowboarding that introduced me to running. During my first winter snowboarding every day, I got to know other young people living the dream and eventually went on a few back country hikes that led to big jumps, untouched powder days after a fresh snow, and lots and lots of hiking in snowboard boots and full gear. During these long days I realized how winded I was and struggled to keep up. I was already a foot shorter than everyone I was riding with and I was the only girl. I realized that I needed to build cardio stamina if I was going to keep up with these fellas in the future.

After the winter was over, I headed back to SoCal and eased back into a routine of community college classes, part-time work, and then started running. I think I picked up my first pair of running shoes from Big 5 Sporting Goods, most likely it was something that resembled what I thought runners wore. Running bras weren’t an issue as I had already found some bras with serious compression that worked well for snowboarding and skateboarding. I started run/walking a route through the neighborhood. As I built up distance, I would run to the local park, do a few laps around the park, and then head home. Eventually, I found the Ballona Creek Trail and Bike Path and built up to running 9 miles. I figured out my mileage by using The Thomas Guide of Los Angeles County. It was a paper map book drawn to scale.

Over the next few years (ages 19 to 22) I ran all year long (usually from 2 to 4 days a week). I mapped out runs during my winters in Mammoth Lakes, at the beach in SoCal, through many neighborhoods and city centers. I generally ran for distance (3, 4, 6, or on occasion a 9-mile run) or for time, giving myself anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. I generally started slow, eased into a comfortable pace, and once in a while would push myself to go faster. To assess if I was improving, I would record my time on run routes I did frequently and then see if my time improved over weeks or months. I generally enjoyed running and the cost was minimal – a pair of cheap running shoes twice a year, running bras that were already in rotation, running shorts and basic cotton t-shirts. I ran with an MP player and then an iPod.

In March of 2001, I enlisted in the Army, and was scheduled to begin basic training in July. From March to July, I did work on getting my fitness ready, I was running, doing sit-ups and push-ups. I spent the last few weeks of June in Mammoth Lakes, where I was running on a regular basis at 6,700 ft in elevation. Then, off to the Army I went. I remember arriving at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in early July and it was not only hot, it was HUMID! After in-processing at Reception, I was assigned to a troop and we spent the next few days marching as a group to do one thing and then another… vaccination here, paperwork here, eye tests and glasses here, get in line and wait to eat, and then do it all again. Life was like that for about three days. On one of the days, they took us to get our running shoes. Knowing I had been running and brought some new running shoes with me, I planned to tell the drill instructors that I didn’t need shoes, I brought some. Oh yeah, like that was gonna happen. When it was my turn, I had to get barefoot and step up on a box, have my arch assessed and then go get the assigned shoes. I didn’t really think the arch assessment was of any value, but I do recall being mad that they made me size up a full size in running shoes (yes – I ran in shoes that were too big for me the next 9 weeks).

The next day, about mid-morning, our group was brought out to do an initial physical assessment, to see if were physically fit enough to start basic training The fitness test included one minute of push-ups, one minute of sit-ups, and a 1 mile run. I was worried about being able to do push-ups but felt more confident about the sit-ups. I did fine on sit-ups and push-ups and then came time for the run. It had been almost a week since the last time I had run and I was so excited to run. I could feel the adrenaline and the eagerness in my legs to run. I remember the girls around me talking about how they hoped to finish the mile in under 12 minutes so they would not have to stay at reception longer than required.

They lined us up for the run, we were probably a group of about 30. The course was simple, it was out-and-back. A half-mile out at a very gentle incline, and then a half-mile back, all downhill. Once lined up and ready the drill instructor said GO! and we were off. I had never run with other people before and this was a new experience. I remember starting the run and how good it felt to move my legs and not have a worry in the world. I was doing my thing. I found a pace where I was pushing myself but felt like I could still sustain the pace. I passed several people and before I knew it, it was time to turn around. I remember it was hot, but it felt like there was abundance of oxygen in the air in comparison to the elevation I had been running at. After turning at the half mile mark, I could see the drill instructors at the finish, a half-mile away, and all downhill. I decided to push my pace to see how fast I could go. I had the downhill grade in my favor, extra oxygen in the air, and it felt so good to just run. I passed several people on the way back. My lungs were screaming and my arms, legs, and feet were burning by the time I finished. I finished third with an overall time of 6:02.

After finishing, the drill instructor that tracked times said if I had only run a little bit faster, I could have finished in 5:59. This didn’t really mean anything to me at the time. Several people asked if I ran track in high school. I was almost embarrassed because I did not want to tell anyone of my running background so I just said I liked running. That was a lie, because this was the mile that showed me how much I loved running.

I realized I loved running as I warmed up. The excitement of getting to run was clear to me and not shared by many around me that day. I realized I loved running with every breath and every step of that mile ran. In that mile I had total peace, I didn’t have to do anything but run. I didn’t have to worry about a drill instructor yelling at me. I didn’t worry about all the things I couldn’t control. I didn’t worry about all the things before this moment, and I didn’t worry about all the things coming after this moment. This mile run was a mile that changed my life (even though I didn’t know it then).

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