Everything and Nothing: Also Known as Running

Last year we had the pleasure of working with and getting to know Rachel Welty. She was an awesome member of our team and helped coach that Summer's No Boundaries program. In her interview for the job, she told Brian and I that she wrote poetry while she ran. Within a short 30 minutes, we were hooked on Rachel. How can you not be? The woman talks to her shoes after all. In the post below, she writes about running and her life. My only regret in reading this the first time is that she didn't tell me to grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. So go grab one, come back, sit down, and enjoy Everything and Nothing. -Andrea

By: Rachel

I have very early memories of my Dad returning from nightly runs. He came home covered in sweat, dead gnats, bitten by fire ants, exhausted but renewed.

I had no idea what he had been through, but it looked gross. Now in his late 50s, he’s the same kind of runner: go out as hard as possible until his quads give out, and then turn back.

If you ask my dad for a reason for why he ran, he would tell you he did it because it was cheap, easy, and didn’t depend on gym hours, turf field availability, or other people to show up. He ran with guys who ran at Oregon State, who ran with Pre, which means my dad is three generations removed from being famous. He told me that running once felt so good, he’d go out in the morning, and then do it again at night. Running could happen anywhere, at any time.

Welty FamilyRachel is the one missing a few teeth, and that's her dad and brother

This is the number one rule of running: it doesn’t rely on anyone or anything. One time my friend Tony showed up at my door for a run wearing jorts, because “they had enough pockets for all his stuff.” People in Mexican canyons have been doing it for thousands of years in their bare feet.

My own story of running starts like anyone else’s: no experience, no concept of form, no gear. I started running in middle school, around Braes Bayou in Houston. The loop my team did was from the parking lot at Saint Thomas Episcopal, around the bayou twice, and back. I loved it then because I was pretty fast, and because I always ran second with a guy named Nathan, and it was cool to see other people running on the other side. I don’t remember what shoes I wore or what I ate for lunch and whether or not that messed with my stomach.

I don’t know what happened to Nathan, but in high school, I started to hate running. Somewhere in between middle school and puberty, the grass made me sneeze and I began to chafe in sports bras. I finally broke a 30-minute 5K my senior year in high school, and I cried because I was so happy that I hadn’t walked.

In college, the switch flipped again. I ran in Williamsburg, Virginia, dodging horseshit with my friend Brittany, memorizing terms for sociology or vocabulary for Latin, after dinner, and in the dark, sweet, lonely hours that are so unrushed during college. There was no coach crossing his arms. My mom wasn’t there – my solitary fan – clapping. There was no John Deere truck following me in dead last place. I don’t remember wearing a watch.

When I moved to Seattle, I used to love this route I called “the cradle”. It was a 6-mile run to work at Fleet Feet that started at the top of the hill behind University of Washington and went down through the arboretum, and back up Montlake into Capitol Hill. In Seattle, I started running more strategically – going to the track, doing tempo runs, threshold runs, group runs, pub runs, trail runs, troll runs (running to the Fremont Troll and slapping the statue). I tracked stride rate and heart rate. I even started thinking strategically about my shoes. Response versus cushion? Stability versus neutral?

Ellie, my best running buddy of all time, and I ran our first marathon in Galveston, Texas in 2011. The aid stations were horrible – Oreos and Gatorade. We had trained in Seattle without any water or nutrition, and we were humbled by the experience of Texas running. I had returned home to reclaim my running past, and it wrecked me. Ellie couldn’t feel her arms between miles 14 and 16 (something we laughed about later), and I cried on the lonely stretch between miles 22 and 24. My mom was there – clapping, with oranges (amazingly doing both at the same time).

Running is so nasty and crazy, and I can’t stop doing it. I work for adidas running now, and things are even more intense. Running includes expos, sales reports, celebrity intrigue (why is Kara Goucher running for Skechers? How awesome is Lauren Fleshman anyway?) There is now stuff – bras, shoes, tech tees, nutrition, body glide – that equip me to be a better, more comfortable runner.

I love the stuff of running. There’s the material stuff – the perfect running pack, the pair of shoes that I talk to, thanking them on long, hard, lonely runs. I get crazy talking about inserts. Talking about bras (the MOST important piece of sports equipment, tied with shoes). Talking socks. Talking Gu. I loved working for Fleet Feet because it taught me an integral process of fitting people for shoes, which enables them to run better, longer, and more confidently. Those folks – Brian, Andrea, Dan, Chris, Natalie, Jaime – they felt and feel like a second family.

I love working for adidas because I believe that their technology is the most innovative on the market, and because they are also the most ethical brand in the business. It’s fascinating to work on the brand side of running specialty because you see what’s coming before anybody else does, and because it teaches me business. I actually like crunching numbers sometimes. I actually know what an excel pivot table is. I like working with a variety of personalities and perspectives, and gaining wisdom from people across my territory who have been running decades longer than I have.

There’s also the other stuff of running – the spiritual stuff. Nothing – not a brand, not a bad day, no amount of ice cream and the resulting IBS – can take away from my love for running. It is wholly physical, but it is also wholly metaphysical. It is the brief hours of my life when my mind and my body remind each other that they are intrinsically connected.

My favorite poet, Heather McHugh, begins her poem “FORM” this way:

We were wrong to think form a frame.

She’s talking about poetic form – that it can’t be defined or constrained like, say, a picture. But it’s also about running. Running is everything, involves everything – your whole self – and it reminds you that you are nothing. It resists boundaries, cultures, complacency. It is stronger than one’s own story of running.

I have a relationship with running that spans my whole life – from when I was its observer, to when I ran barefoot in the yard, to when I ran around a track, to now when I run on trail. But every run that hasn’t happened yet contains its own energy. It doesn’t matter who I was in high school, or how well I ran today. It is nothing yet, but it is already shaping me.

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