Personal Story: What Running Means to Me

When I was in third grade, I found myself disappointed daily in PE class rotations. Each class consisted of a different set of activities. I was not the best at tennis, nor was I the star of racquetball, nor could I swing the baseball bat harder than my peers. 

However, I soon discovered that, while my hand-eye coordination was not supreme, I could run. I could run across the turf field barefoot, I could run on the orange track in sketchers and I could run over the dirt path behind my school. I could run faster than most of my classmates. So, I ran whenever I could. Between classes, up the stairs, to my parent’s car. 

Indoor track in the winter of seventh grade brought about the beginning of my running career. I came to school bedecked in flashy Nike t-shirts, sneakers and high Nike socks. I raced with my peers between classes and I ran from the lunchroom to class.

Indoor track was a maturing experience for me. Our coach allowed us to decide where to run off campus – we raced past busy avenues, shady street corners and bright yellow houses. Often, one student in the group, aged just 12 or 13, would lead the way. It was an experience of freedom that I had never felt before. One day, a few of us in the front of the running pack broke off and ran to Starbucks. I bought a Vanilla Bean Frappe. I held onto the green stirring stick for a few years after the fact.

My race was the mile and breaking six minutes was the goal. Come the end of indoor track season, I ran six minutes on the dot in a PE class-wide competition. I fumed at the fact that my time did not start with a five. In track and field, I fully broke six minutes, running 5:49.

The summer before eighth grade, I became a little too invested in running. I ran four or five miles each day. Soon, I developed a knee injury that often falls on new or inexperienced runners – runner’s knee or patellofemoral syndrome. It is a rather common and unserious condition, often cured by rest and alternative exercise, but to little Karenna, the injury was crushing.

What was I going to do without the love of my life, running? I rested for much of eighth grade, letting my body grow and heal without obstruction. I experimented with swimming and softball. None of them brought the same high or equal pizazz. Cross country first-year of high school was thus exhilarating. The love of my life was back.

In cross country my first-year, I made some of my closest friends and grew to learn from the older girls on the team. They shared advice, kindness and maturity with us underclassmen. Soon, the group of 13 girls on cross country grew to feel like a family. Nothing bonds a group of people together like meeting at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to take a five hour bus ride to run a 5k. 

At pasta dinners, on Friday nights before Saturday races, we bonded over rigatoni, fettuccine Alfredo and breadsticks. It was a great way to let off pre-race anxiety and get excited for the race ahead with the rest of the team. 

As a sophomore, I hit my best 5k times. I ran a 21:19 5k and placed in the top 20 of Washington, D.C.’s Independent School League (ISL) championships. This was a big win for my shy 15 year-old self. More than anything, in 10th grade, I learned to no longer passively listen to the instruction of older girls on the team, but to take on a more engaged role in leading exercises, drills and practices.

Grades 11th and 12th brought track and cross country seasons blurred by COVID-19. However, I enjoyed serving as a captain in 12th grade alongside other girls I had grown up with over the past four years.

Now, running plays less of a role in my everyday life. I no longer run consistently, but in other sports, such as rock climbing, I have found the same excitement and energy that I once felt in running. I may get re-invested in the sport in the future, but for now my spikes remain hung up in my closet.