Mario Fraioli: Why I Run

We all started running for different reasons, even if it's not the same reason we run now.

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As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, today is National Running Day, or a day devoted to celebrating the reason or reasons we all run. Naturally, it got me to reflect on why I lace up my shoes and get out the door (almost) every day, and how those reasons have evolved throughout the course of my 17-year involvement in the sport.

I started running in high school, taking up track the spring of my sophomore year with the idea that it would help my speed and quickness for my first love, basketball. The following fall I joined the cross-country team with the same objective: improve my athleticism—in this case, endurance—to prepare for the long basketball season over the winter.

Well, long story short, one thing led to another, competitiveness took over, that basketball season never happened, I joined the indoor track team, and before I knew it I had traded in my Nike Flights for a pair of adidas Osweego trainers and Nike Zoom Rival track spikes. And minus a couple of untimely injuries (then again, when are they ever timely?), I haven’t stopped running since.

The competitive side of the sport is where I got my start in running—and over time, the reason I kept running—until about three years ago, when I decided, or perhaps more accurately, realized, that I didn’t necessarily need a race on my calendar to have a reason for lacing up my training shoes every day.

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After I ran the L.A. Marathon in March of 2012 I stepped away from training for a while, taking a short amount of time completely off from running altogether before resuming a regular, albeit unfocused schedule where I didn’t have any specific goal other than to get out the door for an hour a day—60 minutes to myself, or with others, where I ran as I felt, with no regard to pace or distance covered. Each day brought a new adventure or experience. I just had fun with it.

Well, that simple objective has more or less been my only M.O. for about three years now, and running has never been more enjoyable—not that it wasn’t fun when most of my workouts had the ulterior motive of preparing for competition lurking behind them. There are quite a few days I end up running longer than an hour, others can be a bit shorter and sometimes I don’t run at all, but 60 minutes a day has become my gold standard. I’ve run by myself and in massive groups, gone to the track and done speed workouts on a whim, embarked upon 3-5-hour adventure runs with friends on the trails, found myself in the middle of a few fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants fartleks, and even jumped into a couple races. I’ve realized over time that I don’t necessarily need competition to motivate me to get out the door every day, although I still like to line up and test myself on occasion. The beauty of this sport is that you can shape it to suit your desires, even if those desires change over time.

The reasons why I run have evolved over the years, but these days, lacing up my running shoes and getting out the door might be the only hour, or 30 minutes, or whatever amount of time I have that day, that I can get away from the busyness of everyday life, the incessant buzzing of my cell phone, dinging of my e-mail alerts —you name it—and have some time to myself or with those who are important to me. It’s my time and I’ve become very protective of it. It doesn’t matter if I’m holding on for dear life at the end of a tough track workout or trotting along at a pace that more closely resembles walking, charging up one of the challenging hills near where I live or floating along a winding stretch of singletrack with a friend in the middle of some previously undiscovered network of trails, the simple process of putting one foot in front of the other brings me unparalleled joy. It challenges me to look deep inside myself on a regular basis and helps me work through problems that nothing else can seem to help solve. It allows me to discover places I’d otherwise never see. Running is responsible for many of the opportunities I’ve been presented with in life—including my gig here at Competitor—along with many of my closest friendships and relationships I’ve made over the years. It was through a local running group that I was first introduced to my wife, and it was shortly after I began running in high school that I met my best friend after a cross-country meet.

Running is a large part of who I am and what I do every day. I don’t know who, or where, I’d be today if it never came into my life. So, as a thank you to running for all of the great things it’s given me over the past 17 years, I’m going to keep doing it—and enjoying it—for as long as I can.