‘What else would I do?’

Lauren Fitch runs along the Riverwalk near Northend Riverside Park, one of her favorite places to run in Big Rapids.

Pioneer Staff Writer Lauren Fitch shares what drives her passion for distance running

I’ve seen the look in their eyes – the look that says “Are you crazy?” or “Why on earth would you do that?” or “Yeah, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.”

Most often, I’ve received that look after casually mentioning that I just finished a 12-mile workout or had gotten up at 6 that morning to get a run in or that if I just go for a quick five-mile run today I’ll have 60 miles in for the week.

That’s right, I’m a distance runner. And that’s a tough thing for some people to wrap their minds around.

I realize there’s a significant population out there that doesn’t think running for extended periods of time – and all the sweat, heavy breathing, aches and pains that go along with that – sounds like a good time.

I’m not part of that population.

There’s a whole subculture of runners out there, whether you realize who they are or not. We walk among you like normal citizens – holding jobs, raising families, even enjoying a cheeseburger and fries from time to time.

It’s just that, in addition to all that, we like to run.

For a good part of my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who run just as much as I do, leading me to believe that was normal. I joined the cross country team in seventh grade and kept right on running through high school and for Grand Valley State University.

It wasn’t until I came here, to Big Rapids, as a “recreational runner” for the first time that I fully realized not everyone in the world schedules the rest of their lives around running.

“Normal” people always ask that classic question: Why would you want to run so much?

There’s no easy answer. I usually give a simple “Because I like to” or “What else would I do?” But that doesn’t really explain the reasoning behind it.

It’s freedom. With every stride down the pavement, I’m getting farther and farther from the real world and all the worries and stress that come with it. When I’m running, it doesn’t matter how my outfit looks or if I asked the right questions in an interview that day. I get to interact with nature – instead of just driving by it – and enjoy the sun (or wind or rain or snow) on my face. My biggest concern at that point is simply putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s a challenge – an unbeatable challenge. No matter how fast I get, how far I run or how hard I train, there will always be someone faster and better than me. At times that’s really discouraging, but overall I like the challenge. I like having something I can throw myself into completely and never conquer. It forces me to keep pushing the limits of my abilities, to keep getting better and keep striving for that elusive goal of being Fast. It’s completely draining and completely empowering at the same time. Running will never get old for me because I’ll never entirely master it.

Grand Valley State University distance runners cheer on their teammates at the National Championship cross country meet in 2009.

It’s my foundation. All those miles I’ve run over the years have taught me some of my greatest life lessons. I credit my work ethic, self discipline, ambition and determination to my time in cross country and track. My teammates and coaches have been some of the most influential people in my life, teaching me to balance competition and encouragement for those around me. My very best friends today are the people who ran by my side season after season. There are parts of me that can be expressed only through running. I run to keep my sanity, to settle my mind, to give me that awesome sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

You’ve heard of runner’s high? It’s real.

For those of you who have never gone and jogged a couple miles – first of all, get out there and try it. But secondly, I’m not sure if I can completely explain to you the attraction of distance running.

For those of you who run, you already know. How do you explain any part of why you are who you are?

These days, in my post-collegiate retirement, I don’t talk about intervals, warm-up drills or weekly mileage so much. I couldn’t run a 12-mile workout or a 60-mile week anymore. And it’s kind of nice to run without that kind of intensity and pressure.

But I still get the urge, looking out the window from my desk at work, to be out there running free.

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