Why We Run: April edition - The Underdog

Jason Bull

No one knows this, but my running career began when I was 8 years old. My dad’s truck was at a local garage about a mile and a half away. Without a ride, he suggested that we run down to pick it up. I can only recall the briefest portions of the actual run, but I remember knowing that I really wanted to run the full distance. Even then I was stubborn.

I remember when we got there, I was thrilled that I’d made it (and weirded out by the feeling that my legs were still moving even though we’d stopped). But the thing that sticks with me the most is my dad’s reaction - a combination of surprise and excitement. He told me he hadn’t expected me to actually run the whole distance and was impressed I had been able to make it. The sense of pride I got from that run has stuck with me - and that continued drive to surpass other’s expectations of myself has always been one of my biggest motivators.

Early on it was just about convincing my classmates that I was a runner. I was the chubby kid in junior high - I looked more like a future shot putter than distance runner. I even remember a girl telling me she knew I wore baggy shirts to practice to try and hide it. I didn’t finish top three in any race that first year, but a bad track (and well timed use of spikes on my part) let me earn my first medal in an 800 meter race the following year. Despite being a workhorse, I spent my high school years as a contributor but never the standout - the 3rd to 5th man on our cross country team and the alternate on most of our relays.

I went to college at a small Division III school and found myself in a new position - on a XC team almost entirely made up of freshman. While most of our team had been chosen and wooed from the Philadelphia Catholic League, I was one of the few athletes who hadn’t been recruited. On a team of guys with much better credentials, it became my goal to prove I belonged. I finished that first season as the number 2 runner on a conference winning team cross country team. When it came time to run spring track, my coach told me I’d be running the 5000 - I told him I was a miler. Begrudgingly, he told me I could run the mile (or 1500 as they were interchangeable depending on the meet), so long as I agreed to double back each meet and also run the 5000. That spring I went on to run PRs at both distances.

The summer after my freshman year I challenged my friend Kevin, a former high school teammate to a one-on-one mile race. He was primarily a quarter and half miler who had gone undefeated in the conference his senior year of high school and had finished 6th in the state at 800 meters. To make it more fun, we did it during one of the high schools summer XC workouts, so we’d have our former teammates and coach watching. Before the race went off, my former coach asked me one simple question: Why are you doing this? You know Kevin’s going to win.

Without going into too many details, it boiled down to a race of desire versus talent. He was much faster, much more talented, and had actually won a similar race in the winter in come-from-behind fashion. The only advantage I had was the distance (I raced it more frequently than he did), and the newly found motivation to prove my coach wrong. His advantage was that I had only one grueling way to win - and that was to go hard, out front and alone, for 1600 meters, in an attempt to put as much distance between us as I could before his blistering kick. Four laps later, I crossed the finish line a few brief seconds ahead of Kevin with the satisfaction that I had once again done more than people expected of me.

Even with some success, it was still the motivation to surpass expectations that kept me going through college. I spent my senior year of cross country injured and on an elliptical machine. When it came time for conferences, my coach put together a ranking of how he thought the race would shake out. He had me 23rd and our team a distant second. I told him he was wrong - and finished third overall helping to secure our fourth team championship. In track I continued to run the mile every meet for four years. I finally received my coach’s blessing at my junior year track banquet and in my senior year I set our college’s indoor record for the distance.

I continued to run competitively for another 10+ years after college. I joined a running club I had no business being a part of, just to prove I could hang (even if it was at the back of the pack). I ran 100 mile weeks, because I didn’t believe anyone thought I could. And after 16 years of working in the run specialty industry (and freelancing as a self-taught graphic designer), I finally decided to once again prove I could do something more by designing my own brand of run inspired tees and apparel called Runnerisms.

In my adult life, I never once considered doing anything that didn’t involve running - it had simply played too large a part in my life and I wanted to continue to be able to pass that on to others in my own unique way. For that reason, every design I’ve created is intended to capture some element of the running experience that’s helped shaped my life - the pride of finishing a race, the inclusivity of the sport, the motivation to get out the door, or simply the humor that lies underneath it all. In doing so, I hope what began with a simple run to the gas station can create the same joy and positive influence in others lives as it did in mine.

Enjoy the run!
Jason


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