Run, Dragon, Run


One of the most important changes since I stopped writing is my desire to run. Because of my military obligation, running wasn’t a new thing to me. I just hated doing it. Military runs aren’t really geared towards making great runners; they’re geared for keeping soldiers capable of passing their physical fitness test. With that in mind, it’s safe to say Army formation runs generally weren’t done with best or safest practices in mind because they kept it simple enough for the lowest common denominator.

My New Year’s resolution for 2017 was to run a half marathon. I picked the San Francisco Marathon – scheduled for July of 2017 – and started a training plan on a running app that came highly recommended by a friend of mine. I won’t bore you with the training regimen or the stats. Looking back on it now, it was pretty basic.

I don’t remember when running actually became fun for me. Bigger than that, I can’t pinpoint the run that made me realize that I needed to run, but somewhere before the half marathon in July, I realized that my mental and emotional well-being seemed to be tied to my physical activity. If I started slacking on Crossfit or my runs, I was irritable, sad, or just plain not happy.

I remember the half marathon. I chose the first half because part of the track was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and the idea of running across the bridge was thrilling to me. That morning, it was foggy and chilly with a bit of mist in the air. It wasn’t enough to call it rain, but I felt damp for most of my run. Crossing the bridge was just as exhilarating as I had imagined it would be!

Checked that block. Resolution success!

I’m going to close with a story of one of the most vivid runs I’ve ever done. I was 19-year-old PV2 Zahn and I had been at my first duty station – Fort Bragg, NC – for a couple of weeks. My first physical fitness test was a warm August morning and my grader was – at the time – SSG Gabriel Martin. He was an eccentric character with a whip-quick sense of humor and a shrewd mind. I had never worked with him, but knew who he was. I liked him immediately.

After we had completed the push up and sit up events, we were milling around the location for our 2-mile run when SSG Martin stepped close to me, leaned into my bubble in the most Jack Sparrow type of way and asked me “Private Zahn, how fast do you run 2 miles?” My most recent physical fitness test had been in AIT and it was around 17 minutes, 30 seconds. I told him this and he leered at me with one eye and said “Today, you will finish your run in 16 minutes.” Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked away from me.

At the time, maxing my run time would have been 15 minutes, 36 seconds. Hitting 16 minutes seemed impossible, but this 19-year-old PV2 Zahn was a motivated people pleaser. I steeled myself to try.

I don’t remember “reaching down and grabbing a pair” or anything to push me faster, but I felt I was doing well as I hit the 1.5 mile mark. I had a half lap of a large track to complete my run and I had no idea how fast or slow I had gone; I had passed the timekeeper a half mile before. Apparently I started to slow because I looked up and saw SSG Martin sprinting towards me, BDUs and boots and all.

From 1.5 miles to 2, SSG Martin ran next to me, seemingly unphased by the boots he was wearing. He talked to me and told me to keep pushing. He never told me the time or if I was ahead of or behind my goal, but instead kept throwing positive reinforcement and motivation my way. We sprinted across the finish line together and I felt I had given everything I had to that run.

The end result was 16 minutes, 5 seconds. I didn’t meet his goal, but he closed out my paperwork with the equivalent of “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do,” and sent me on my way with no feeling that I had disappointed him.

You know, I never did hit that 16-minute 2 mile time. I can honestly say that EVERY run I have done that has become difficult has brought SSG Martin to my mind and helped me push through. I will always see him in BDUs and boots sprinting across the finish line with me.

So look at me now. I am a runner because I like to run. I am not fast and I do not run very far, but it has become a cathartic activity for me. Will I ever run a marathon? I won’t rule it out, but I think the half marathon is what makes me happiest. Running a full marathon feels almost silly.

So did running a 16-minute 2 mile though… and I *almost* got that one!

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