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Updated: Jan 4, 2020

There’s something special about sliding into a new pair of runners that I can’t quite put my finger on. As I tie up the bright new laces for the first time, they firmly seal to every surface of my foot. It makes me feel clean, crisp and renewed, as though I had just hopped out of the shower and into a fresh t-shirt and pair of shorts. And best of all, it makes me feel fast. I remember the first pair of legitimate running shoes I got when I was 7 years old. I had just started attending a new elementary school in Richmond, BC, Canada where my dad moved our family in '96 when I was in the middle of the first grade. While I had fond memories of playing square ball (or 4-square) and soccer outside in the field back at my old school growing up, this would actually be the year where I would first start calling myself a runner.

My 1st grade teacher was none other than Gwen McFarlan. at age 62, she was a full-time teacher but also an avid runner. As we find out much later however, she also goes on to become a local legend and a world champion. She was fair-skinned with a slim frame and tall stature so it wouldn't surprise you to find out that she was a runner. She was always kind and patient but struck a great balance between being strict and fair. Intriguingly, she implemented an unique initiative every spring - The Kilometre Club. At first, I didn't understand the concept of running laps around the school to collect popsicle sticks, it seemed pointless to aimlessly tire myself out so my friends and I would either play cops and robbers or simply talk as we lazily hung around in the playground watching the other kids make their way around the school. Little did I know however, I would go on to collect hundreds of those popsicle sticks.

It was a rather simple concept. Complete 1 lap around the school, pass 'GO,' collect 1 popsicle stick. You were free to enjoy your lunch hour or spend recess playing tag but armed with a Rubbermaid tote box filled with popsicle sticks, there was almost always an attendant present if you wished to run. When we returned to class at the end of every break, Mrs. McFarlan would collect our popsicle sticks and tally up the distance completed.

1 Lap = 1 Popsicle Stick. 4 Popsicle Sticks = 1 Kilometre. Pretty simple.

One day after a particularly exciting lunch hour of cops and robbers by the portables, I walk back into class to find a large yellow banner on the wall. It had a giant version of graphing paper (the kind with the squares) plastered across the bottom, rows of red squares haphazardly glued next to it and the words "Kilometre Club" neatly printed across the top in a thick permanent black marker. Along the left hand side of the chart below the title was a list of names. I quickly ran over and traced my finger down the column until I found my name and followed the row to the right side counting the number of colored red squares. I had none. Perhaps it stemmed from embarassment or maybe the discovery that I loved statistics (as I would later find out that the abovementioned yellow banner was a horizontal bar graph) but I wanted red squares of my own.

With newfound resolve, me and my two bestfriends at the time - Let's call them J and H made a pact that together, we would start to run. We were fairly athletic and no strangers to running thanks to various combinations of tag, cops and robbers and other playground games so we figured that it couldn't possibly be that difficult. It was nice to have people to run with but it was even nicer to feel the closeness and accountability of having my two best friends with me in the endeavor. With the number of laps we started to run on a daily basis, you would have thought that the school was running a military bootcamp. We were hooked. We would spend every waking moment we had running those laps. From simultaneously asking our moms to drop us off at school early in order to clock a few extra laps, to scarfing lunch down in a few minutes before heading back to class to maximize available running time.

Throughout the year that followed, I continued to stick to my newfound hobby. In hindsight, many of the attributes that I am proud to possess today can be traced back to this season. From the resolve of sticking to a singular goal, to thriving under pressure and competing by giving 100% of all I am into whatever I put my mind to, running became inextricably linked to me as a person. Discovering running at this age was strangely freeing. With no expectations or judgement, I was free to run as hard as I could, giving my best efforts without the pressure of competing against the clock.

There are still days that I set out for a structured training session just to find myself pressing on and running with unchecked speed. Chasing the feeling of unbound freedom, it can be refreshing to deviate from the plan, letting the legs go at whatever pace they feel like. The details of your surroundings melt into the background and you get lost. With only the rhythmic beating of your heels to the asphalt and the sound of oxygen heaving in and out of your lungs, you are invincible. And for a moment, the world disappears.

Many see the act of trying on a new pair of runners to be relatively mundane but I don't. Running shoes can feel like an extension of your feet. They can hug your feet tightly as you race along the infinite shoreline urging you forward or they can ache and burn causing callouses and pain that radiates throughout your legs. They can be a simple gift from a loved one, the mark of a fresh new training season or even remind you of a time long past. While the name of the model escapes me, I do still remember the first pair of running shoes my dad picked up for me when I first started running. It was an old school blue and white Nike sneaker with a mesh top for breathability and a durable foam base for stability. And though I have seen many pairs of runners come and go over the years, I am reminded of my humble start every time I put a new pair on. I may find myself running new and exciting races in different countries and climates in years to come, but unbeknownst to everyone watching, I am simply running to get to that next popsicle stick as fast as I can.

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