Hi, everyone! I’m Kenaia (ken-I-uh) Neumann, and I’ve been a runner since… well, forever.
No, seriously. Somewhere there are photographs of me in a T-shirt so big it conceals my knees, outracing my father to the finish line of some local 5k (to be fair, he was carrying my younger sister while trying to keep up with me).
This is not to say that I was the most athletic kid ever. I played YMCA soccer and showed up to recreational track meets, but my 4 minute, 30 second postings for the 800m were nothing impressive. During my short-lived softball career, I was known for sitting in the outfield picking daisies… during the game.
So, I guess I really started “running” when I signed up for track in 8th grade. We didn’t do much, to be honest. I remember one day in particular- we were out on the track and it began to rain. Our coach corralled us indoors and informed us that, despite the looming final meet, we would be staying indoors making “supportive posters” instead of actually, you know, running.
Despite the sad lack of guidance from that middle school track coach, I had a bit of a talent for running and placed well in the distance events at our final meet.
I think that’s when it started, this running obsession that has grown to consume me. It was in an uncomfortable, three-sizes-too-big jersey, running around the track without a care in the world, realizing I could be kinda fast when I tried, that I started to realize how much I loved the feeling of flying. Of being free.
I suppose, in retrospect, it was bound to happen.
My mother was a competitive collegiate runner, and has completed nearly twenty marathons, including Boston and New York. My dad did Ironman Canada. My grandpa ran ultras, and most of my relatives are distances runners and/or coaches.
Still, my mom was surprised when I told her I wanted to sign up for cross country my freshman year of high school. “You know you don’t have to run just because all your cousins do, right?” she asked, making sure I wasn’t succumbing to peer pressure.
My high school running career was nonlinear. I had a fun if unimpressive first year of the sport. I wasn’t very fast, clocking around 22 minutes for a 5k, but was already the fastest on our small team. I realized I had potential, and worked around the clock my second year to bring my time down to a 19:43, fast enough to qualify for the State Championships, which hadn’t been done by anyone at my school for nearly two decades.
My third year, I slowed down. I claimed the second-to-last qualifying spot for State, barely squeezing into a meet at which I performed poorly. By my final year of high school, some of my teammates were passing me in races, which had never happened before.
A lot of things were happening in my life that affected this decrease in performance. Mainly, I was distracted- I had started a new job and was saving for two school trips, one to NYC for a week and the other to China for nearly a month. I was looking at colleges, both in New York and overseas. I didn’t know yet how to be an athlete while living the rest of my life.
I ended up going to a college without a cross country program, a tiny school in Singapore where no one knew about my recent running failures. I was excited to start a new life for myself overseas, but wanted to retain my identity as a runner. I’d already completed several half marathons for my cross country training in high school, so felt that the only way I could get back into running was to do something bigger. Something that, in my mind, would redeem me.
So, at eighteen, I signed up for my first marathon, unknowingly attaching myself to a word that would soon define me.
I posted an excruciatingly slow time at my first 26.2, but I finished, and that was something I was proud of. Not only that, but I had put in the work. Marathon training in the intense heat and humidity of Singapore was no easy feat. When my mom came to visit me for a week, I took her to run on one of my favorite hilly courses sometime in the afternoon, when it was around 90 degrees F and nearing 100% humidity. Halfway through she stopped, panting, and looked at me. “How do you do this every day?” she asked. Masochistic girl I’ve turned out to be, I could only shrug as I wrung the sweat out of my ponytail.
Distance became my teacher and punisher, lover and persistent puppy. Often I’ve been excited to lace up my shoes and loop through parks and hidden trails. I love running through places I’ve never been, or racing myself around a track. Some days the idea of moving at all feels equivalent to voluntarily dropping bricks on my feet, and it’s a struggle just to jog a mile.
At work, I daydream about running, occasionally to the point of distraction.
Running has become the thing I know and am known for- the thing I now want to share with everyone around me.
I know not everyone wants to run marathons. Some runners are addicted to the snapping speed of a 5k, or the adventure of an ultra (any race longer than a marathon- common distances are 50k, 50 miles, or 100 miles). But all of us who run understand there is a force that drives us, whether we can explain and describe it or not. I’m also a travel addict, and I fully believe that a leisurely morning run is the best way to see a new city. The more easily you can run, the more easily you can explore.
Today I’m working on my marathon speed, dreaming big runner dreams of qualifying for Boston and New York like my mom. I want to run marathons overseas, push myself through beautiful cities I’ve never seen before. I want to run an ultramarathon.
I want to learn more about the sport. I want to understand the workings of my body, learn how to fuel it most efficiently, stretch it out and build it up.
Most importantly, I want to share running with all of you. People that maybe, like me, have been running forever, or newbies who’ve never finished a 5k.
Running, I’ve heard, is the great equalizer.
I can’t remember who said that, but they hit the nail on the head.
Anyone can be a runner. It doesn’t come overnight. It certainly didn’t for me! My old running coach likes to joke about the days in high school when he would propose a 3 mile jog and I would beg, “can we run 2 and a half miles?” terrified that I’d have to stop and walk somewhere in the first fifteen minutes.
Now I run marathons (plural). I’ve worked through minor and massive injuries, struggled through physical therapy, joined a gym and gained my RRCA coaching certification. I’m a Janji Corps member, part of an amazing group of runners representing a technical running clothes company that donates 10% of it’s proceeds to clean water projects. I mean, now I blog about running!
Running changes you like that. It is like nothing else, and it is worth every step.
So, that’s me. My running journey.
What will yours look like?