Ten years ago, in December of 2005, I was in my mid twenties and living in a studio apartment on Capitol Hill. Through the Summer and Fall I had started running with no guidance; completely self-directed. I thought it was going well, I was running longer and longer (mileage wasn’t something I was tracking yet, I didn’t know how). I was running in cotton shirts, basketball shorts and cross-trainers. My understanding of running gear dated from middle-school gym class. So far, so good, I thought until I was going up some stairs at work and my knee buckled right out from underneath me.
The doctor, thankfully, rather than tell me to stop running, told me I needed proper running shoes. The pain, he said, was caused by my knees moving from side to side as my feet over/under pronated. A good pair of running shoes, he said, should correct my running form and allow to me to continue running with less risk of further injury. He suggested I go to a store that catered specifically to runners, not a “sports” store like Dick’s or a sneaker store like Foot Locker. He suggested Seattle’s famous running stores like Super Jock n’ Jill on Greenlake and, more conveniently, Seattle Running Company on Capitol Hill, which has since closed and become the still-wonderful Fleet Feet Seattle. These places, he said, would actually watch my gait as I ran on a treadmill and suggest the right shoe.
I was relieved to hear that I could continue running, but I was hesitent to go. I had heard of those stores and had gone past the Seattle Running Company several times, but there was a reason I didn’t go in. I was intimidated. I didn’t see myself as a “real” runner. And now I had to bring my (then) pudgy body and ask these lean athletes for help. I dreaded the idea, but I had no choice. I had developed a taste for exercise. I was feeling good and looking better than I had in years. And this was the only way I saw to keep going.
I remember going to Seattle Running Club on a dark Seattle winter afternoon. I remember I was the only one in the place and I felt like a fish out of water. The clerk looked up from behind the counter. He was really striking: tall, a shock of black, curly hair. He was lean and ropey. I didn’t know it then, but it was the first time I had seen an Ultramarathoner. At that time I didn’t even know there were distances longer than a marathon.
I told the clerk my situation. I remember feeling intimidated because he didn’t smile or frown, he just seemed really analytical. He asked me to run on the treadmill and had cameras on my feet (one set on profile and another from behind). After watching me run for a couple minutes, he played back the video and explained I was over pronating. He pulled a few shoes off the wall and gave me an overview of normal pronation and how my gait should be with the right running shoe. I tried a few of them and settled on the Brooks Adrenaline 5s, successive generations of which would be my standard running shoe for the next nine years.
He also noted my cotton shirt and gym shorts and suggested clothing made of moisture-wicking material, along with running socks. I asked about running in the rain and cold and he suggested a running vest and running tights for the cold. I couldn’t tell if he was eager to close his shift or was preoccupied. Although he was helpful, I couldn’t help but feel his mind was elsewhere. Regardless, I plunked down what was an enormous sum for me at the time, went home and looked at all this weird running gear I got.
I remember the first run with my new gear feeling more comfortable than I ever had been. Encouraged, I started reading books on running and used then-new tools like MapMyRun to estimate mileage. The next year I would get my first Garmin GPS watch, a bulky Forerunner 301. I was training smarter and began running longer distances and doing more races: 5Ks became 10Ks and then my first Half Marathon in the Fall of 2007. I started to see myself as a runner, thanks to that inititial consult at Seattle Running Company.
In 2009, I read this article in Runner’s World about a new book called Born to Run and right there in the article is the (now famous) photo of Scott Jurek running alongside Arnulfo Quimare of the Rarámuri. I remember seeing that photo and thinking “Hey! That’s the guy who sold me my first pair of running shoes.”
Only after that did I learn about his record-setting wins at Western States, Badwater and Hardrock. In fact, it was in reading about him that I even learned about those events. A year later when I read Born to Run and hearing Christopher McDougall’s (albeit reportedly exagerated) characterization of Jurek’s aloofness and the nickname the Rarámuri gave him, “the Deer,” did I realize that this was the same guy.
All these years later, after I finished my third ultra, and improving my performance on the trails, and am getting more involved with the Seattle trail and ultra community. The moral of the story, if there is one, is inhibition doesn’t get you very far. When I think about not showing up, I think about that night and how fortuitous that I overcame my sense of intimidation to unwittingly get help from one of the legends in our field.
* The other moral of the story is that memory is a tricky thing. This was a long time ago. It’s possible it was someone else and my mind put Scott in that place after the fact. Please don’t hesitate to give me evidence that proves me wrong.