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CHICAGO IS FOR RUNNERS - AARON BAKER

 
My parents taught me to love the outdoors and to lead an active life. Growing up, my father, who had always been athletic, was a serious rock climber. He would go away for a month at a time and return with pictures of himself and his friends clinging to the sides of mountains, smiling. My mom came from hardy stock in north central Pennsylvania, an area that regularly gets the worst weather in the country but where people still spend a lot of time outside. She wasn’t interested in sports but had a lot of nervous energy and was always in motion. If I sat for more than an hour she would always say the same thing, “Go. Out. Side!” So I did.

I started climbing with my dad in my early-teens. We hiked together at first. Then I graduated to technical, multi-pitch climbs. My parents were divorced by then, so I would take these “bonding trips” with him to the Rockies or the Adirondacks. He bought me my own gear and got me subscriptions to climbing magazines. I had to be the only kid in my Texas middle school with a chalk bag in his closet and pictures of climbers on his walls. My dad’s friends had kids who climbed, too. Some of them grew up to be among the best climbers in the world.

The higher I climbed, the more the exposure (to heights) rattled me. So I stopped climbing after a few years and decided to stick to Earth. Luckily, I had other interests. I was also into BMX freestyle – doing tricks on a bike. If I wasn’t in school, I was on my bike. I would spend hours in front of my house trying to learn a new trick or routine. On the weekends my friends and I would ride all day, for miles and miles, looking for new places to freestyle. I have vivid memories of pedaling so hard to keep up with them that my legs burned and then collapsing after we got to our destination. Years later I would relive the experience without wheels, running my hardest, trying not to get dropped by other runners.

I started running in college. It seemed like a random choice at the time: I had to fulfill a P.E. requirement. I registered late and all that was left was a class called, “Jogging.” I signed up, thinking, “Oh well. I can do that.” Happily, my time spent climbing and doing BMX had given me a great aerobic base, the discipline to train and the taste for suffering that you need to be a long distance runner. I fell for the sport hard. I now feel like I was always a runner and was just waiting to discover it.

Running is a lot like climbing. You do the vast majority of your training alone, but then on the day of your event you are part of this amazing social phenomenon where you depend on teammates, the crowd and the volunteers to pull you through. When I was younger I wanted to train by myself as hard as I could. As I get older, I want to run with people more, to share the experience and soak up the culture. Other people make you better, too. My dad, who still does alpine climbs, sends me his heart rate data and we geek out over foam rollers. I see now that it’s come full-circle and I am my father, disappearing out the door for long periods and then returning with a phone full of pictures of me and my friends smiling.
— Aaron Baker