“Always forward; never effing quit” – Aaron Leopold discovers his love for running

Tell us about how you found RCTC

Mid-way through 2021 I began adding some running into my weekly training routine, which up to then was primarily strength-focused. By August I’d decided, along with a few friends, that I’d run a 7-mile trail race in November, at Silver Falls State Park. After the first couple months I found myself enjoying the process of training, and enjoying the easy runs and workouts with friends. That had me realizing I should look for a group of folks who meet consistently and are dedicated to improving and training. Rose City was one of the first names that stood out as I looked through a list of local clubs on USATF’s website, and as I read through the athlete profiles and team website I got the impression that the club would be a fun and inspiring group of folks to surround myself with. I then applied, hoping I might be lucky enough to join the club.

Why do you run?

I started running to prepare for a new career, and now I also find myself loving the sport on its own terms.

Before July 2021 I didn’t really consider myself as someone who enjoyed running, at least not outside the sports I enjoyed playing (basketball, lacrosse, and soccer). There were times that I’d be consistent with running, but they wouldn’t often last longer than a few weeks, were mostly based around sprints, and those bouts of consistency were often focused on getting myself somewhat fit for playing one of the sports I participated in. However, toward the end of 2020 I’d decided to make a pretty big shift in my career focus, and I knew running would need to begin to play a larger role in my life, regardless of how I felt about it. I’d spent most of my working life in customer-service roles and I knew that I wasn’t going to find that fulfilling for the next 30-40 years. I did enjoy some of the service-oriented elements of the jobs, and since I was a teenager I’d felt inclined to do something where I could serve my community.

I graduated from Portland State with a Bachelor’s in Political Science in 2019, as I started a new job with a furniture company producing their furniture locally, using some locally sourced materials. A year-and-a-half into my new job, and after graduation, the murder of George Floyd brought questions around policing back to the fore of the national conversation. This certainly wasn’t the first incident of this nature that raised such questions, although it was the first time I’d seriously began considering whether I might want to dedicate my life to the profession and bringing positive change to how the police interact with the public they serve. Thinking that at least part of the problem stems from a lack of training for stressful situations, I considered whether joining the military might be the better way for me to receive a higher level/quality of training. By October 2020, I’d decided that I would indeed begin preparing myself to join the Air Force, with a focus on getting a job in their policing career field. That’s where my relationship with running first began, although I still wasn’t running with any consistency.

I started watching YouTube videos for information on my career choice, and in early-2021 I found myself watching my first running videos. Specifically, it was one of my first times watching a running event (outside the Olympics), and it just happened to be a documentary on the Barkley Marathons. After watching that, I found another Barkley documentary, and continued down the ultra-trail rabbit-hole. Knowing that I wasn’t wanting to run any ultras right away (although, I will someday) I did find the documentaries incredibly inspiring as I embarked on my initial training path (primarily strength-focused). Then, as I started running more consistently in mid-2021, I began following YouTube channels like Sweat Elite to find advice and inspiration in watching the training (and biomechanics) of elite runners. Around this time, I also began to notice I was enjoying running on its own terms, and have only found myself enjoying it more (even the hard days and workouts) as time advances.

What are your goals?

My primary goal at the moment is getting as close to a 9:00 min. 1.5-mile as possible, which is the distance of the physical fitness test at Air Force basic training. Longer-term, I want to focus on a sub-5:00 min. mile, and a sub-16:00 min. 5km.; also, I’d like to run a half-marathon, then someday a full, and eventually an ultra.

Can you describe a moment where you felt like running became something more meaningful to you?

I think the first time I ran further than six miles in one session (September 2021) was the moment where it was cemented in my heart and mind that running meant more to me than being an annoying requirement of the various sports I enjoyed playing. I now see it as a way to test not only my physical fitness and strength, but my mental fitness and strength; I see it as a way of interacting with the community; and, I see it as a way to cherish and enjoy the natural (and built) world around us, which we often take for granted.

When you’re running, what do you think about?

I often find myself thinking about how lucky I am to have a body that allows me to participate in this sport, and to partake in the suffering required to improve my abilities. I also try and spend as much time as I can focusing only on my breath and cadence, feeling the sensations in my body, and letting myself go into a somewhat meditative state; while I do enjoy doing group workouts, and easy runs with friends, I find this easier to do when I’m running alone.

What’s your most prized running possession?

Currently, my most prized running possession(s) are the bibs I wore at the Silver Falls 7-miler, and at the Stumptown XC Series Pier Park 8k. The former reminds me of the beauty (and struggles) of running trails, while the latter reminds me of my mantras: always forward; never f’ing quit.

What do you do for fun outside of running?

Outside of running, I enjoy playing football (aka soccer) and basketball, snowboarding, camping, cooking, and playing video games. I also enjoy reading and photography, but don’t currently make enough time for either as I have in the past.

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