A story about a run and a hat

On motivation, relentlessness and mental and physical exercise

Editor’s Note: If you’ve followed my writing since I graduated from Stonehill College, and even during my time there, you’ve probably read a few of my more personal columns. If this site is an introduction to my work, this is your first. Regardless, I hope you enjoy…

For a long time now, I’ve considered myself a runner.

Sure, it’s a self-bestowed title, and those are always a bit suspect. Mine has certainly never been described as the classic “runner’s body,” and I’ve always been more goalie than skater, if you know what I mean.

But, by my very rough mental calculations, I’ve probably gone for a substantial run in more than half of the 52 weeks in each year I’ve been alive, since my first days on the freshman cross-country team at Kellenberg Memorial High School.

I had never run much more than a gym-mandated mile before my freshman year at Kellenberg, but under the tutelage of the great Kevin Buckley, I turned into a respectable JV runner. After I had left the school, I had fits and starts of picking up the sport with regularity again and again, but always found myself lacing up my sneakers at least a few times every month. Running was, and still is, my go-to move when trying to “get back into shape,” or any other fitness inspired effort.

 

running
They’ll pass you by, glory days.

But, more times than I may have realized, what motivated me to stretch up and drag my body through a few miserable miles was more psychological than physiological. Those 20 or 40 minutes spent in locomotion were a better tool for my mental health than maybe any other in my arsenal. I could rattle off the times that a run has helped quiet the persistent voice of anxiety, cool my hot temper, raise my spirit against a bout of particularly low-swinging depression, or help me find some other type of peace, even if only for a short while.

I’m only just realizing this at 24, and I’m sure it will be the first of much more insightful revelations as I age (then again, maybe not), but often, running for me has been about mental exercise, not physical.

I thought about this on another run today.

Along with considering myself a runner, I’ve always thought of myself as a “hat guy.” You undoubtedly know one of these people, or you may be one of them yourself. I always yearned for some “cool” or “statement” hair but was not endowed with follicle greatness. While I’ve tried in variously disastrous ways to grow my hair out or fashion it into a mohawk, what rests on top of my head is, at the end of the day, an overgrown mop.

I’ve come to accept this and so stuff it into hats which, while twisting and gnarling it often past the point of no return, allow me to broadcast something, be it a rooting allegiance or otherwise. (hey also have the added benefit of keeping the mop from encroaching onto my face, which is a particularly useful tool when I go for a run. But function aside, when I wear a hat, it’s for a purpose, and the same is true whether I’m headed to a ballgame, out for a beer or around the block on a run.

Lately, I’ve been wearing a forest green hat bearing the logo of my youngest sister Kaileen’s William Smith Herons, a Division III women’s soccer team/powerhouse. For those that don’t know, Kaileen has perhaps had her name more in print for her prowess as a goaltender, and has deserved every word of it.

She’s done this despite physical limitations as a not remarkably large, lengthy or naturally strong individual (sorry, Bean, please don’t hurt me.) She does not have the profile of a stud goaltender. But she became one, mostly through doing the same things every day to get better.

 

Herons
The hat in question

 

While she’s my younger sister, I’ve been fortunate to have her to look up to. She possesses a special kind of tenacity, relentlessness, and toughness that I often lack.

Anyone who knows me that if there’s one thing that can make me run scared, it’s routine. The idea of implementing a program, schedule or system that one must repeat every day no matter what is far scarier than almost anything in my eyes (well, except maybe needles.)

But Kaileen can bust through a routine and execute a plan as well as anyone I know. She wasn’t blessed with rippling strength, a lanky frame or leg strength that can send a ball into the stratosphere, but instead was given a drive and grit that goes beyond cliches.

Like I said, I choose these hats for a reason. I’ve been running more lately, and again, it’s been more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Carrying myself a few miles a day is a relatively minor challenge. I struggle to do it again and again, every day, even if it’s hot, even if I work late, or even if I’m sore. Day in, and day out, do it.

Despite what I may have thought for most of my life, I’m beginning to realize that in my case, the battle to be relentless is more of a mental than physical struggle. That realization means this latest effort, sustained and earnest as it may have been so far, is about changing a mental habit rather than breaking a physical threshold.

That will probably prove a bit more difficult. I’m lucky to have an example to show me the way.

If you stuck with this, thanks. You can find Brendan on Twitter at @murraysporttalk. If you’re interested in other personal columns, click here, or here. If you want to learn more about Kaileen Murray and the #4!!! preseason ranked Herons, click here.

 

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