One day after a long run, I was standing near the trail head happily emptying the contents of a box of Annie’s Bunny Grahams when a fellow runner pointed at me and said, “Nikki runs naked, too.”
I’d only been half-listening to the conversation of congregating runners, but now my head shot up. Wait. What? I know my shorts are short, but I definitely have clothes on. Right? I start second guessing myself. I did leave the house without coffee so it’s entirely possible that I just forgot to put shorts on. I looked down and breathed a sigh of relief. Yep, definitely have shorts on. Whew.
Laughing at my obvious confusion, my accuser then looked at me quizzically, “You don’t wear a watch when you run, right? I’ve never seen you wear one.”
Ohhh, that kind of naked running. Got it. Nope, no watch. I don’t keep track of my miles, my times, or my climbs. I just get up and I go. I stop when I’m tired and I go when I’m feeling good. I wasn’t always watch-less though.
Before my freshman year of high school, I ran because that was the perfect physical expression of my joy and enthusiasm for life. When I started racing at the high school level, people noticed me. They said I was fast. I broke records, won races, and suddenly the peace I derived from running was replaced with pressure.
By sophomore year of high school, I was terrified and miserable. Everyone expected I would continue to run faster and stronger. People jokingly asked when I was going to start training for the Olympics. I cried myself to sleep at night, desperately afraid that my freshman year was just a fluke and I wouldn’t be able to keep up my winning streak. I suffered severe anxiety attacks before races and wondered if I would ever enjoy running again. I tried to quit several times, but never had the guts to go through with it. Running was the one thing I was very good at and I derived a lot of my self-worth from my ability to perform on the track.
Another six years went by before I reached a breaking point. After years of constantly monitoring splits, personal records, and lap times, I had forgotten how to be motivated by joy. I quit running for my university and vowed never to sign up for another race again. It would be five years before I broke that promise. In an attempt to distract myself from a broken heart, I spontaneously signed up for a small local race. Unfortunately, I won. Suddenly my running buddies were speculating about other local races I could be competitive in if I started training seriously. I found myself once again ducking conversations about splits, personal bests, and training theories on how to shave seconds.
After the race I sat at home running my fingers over the finisher medal and staring blankly at the bouquet of flowers I’d received on the podium. Then I made a decision. I put the medal in a box, gave the flowers to my roommate, and took the batteries out of my running watch.
I stopped wearing a watch. I stopped planning runs. I stopped worrying about times. I started “running naked” and I never looked back. Now I lace up my running shoes and I run as hard as I can for as long as I can. I don’t worry about a damn thing, and it feels good. Fellow runners ask what my times are and I’m happy to tell them, “I have no idea.” Maybe some day I’ll dust off my running watch, but for now I’m happy to leave it at home.
My only motivation is the motivation I started with: the pure unadulterated love of running. There is nothing to distract me from admiring the adrenaline surging through my veins as I come up over the crest of a ridge, Berkeley at my feet, San Francisco in the distance. The sun is setting. We throw high fives and drop back down the trail at a blistering pace. At least, we think it’s a blistering pace. Without a watch, we’ll never really know.
And, frankly, that’s fine by me. Viva the naked runs.