“I had to do something to shake up my life and get back some sense of control and trust in the world and along the way fill the hollow space. I needed to rebel against these negative forces, to scream so loud and for so long that the anger living inside me would evacuate forever. But instead of screaming, I ran.” (Gail Kislevitz, First Marathons)
I read this quote earlier this week and it got me thinking about why I started running. Lots of times people say that lifestyle changes don’t happen overnight, but when people become runners, I think that transition really does happen that quickly. If you love running, for whatever reason, it’s not a gradual addiction – it’s something you have to do everyday, right away. Even when you don’t want to, you need to.
I was athletic in high school but hated running. After my first year at college, I backpacked through Europe with a friend, and we found ourselves making spontaneous running tours of the big cities where we only had a day or two to see all the sights. (Running alongside Parisian shoppers on the Champs-Élysées in my shorts and sneakers was an awkward and interesting contrast I’ll never forget) But when I got back to Maine, I didn’t stop running.
I remember the first time I ran sixty minutes without stopping – I’ve never felt so invincible. I could physically feel my body going through the transition – sore muscles slowly recovering faster, my pace quickening, my morning heart rate decreasing. In my private life, I was confused, unsettled in my 19-year-old’s perspective on love, and leaving my childhood home for school down south, but in my runs I was so calm, my thoughts were crystal-clear, enlightening. I could control my pace, my distances, think through my conflicts, or just leave them behind when I walked out the door.
I became a runner before I could even realize what an involved, long-term commitment I was getting myself into. I was so free on the road, on the trails, anywhere I went in my size 8 Supernovas, that I never stopped to think about the addiction I was entering into.
Six years later, and I’m still lacing up every day. Because here’s the thing – you can never permanently turn your back on running. And the road or the trail or the mountain or lane will never turn its back on you. Sitting here now, I obviously understand better why I first fell for the sport, but what’s more interesting is to wonder why I keep doing it. It gave me the clarity and resolution that I needed at that time in my life, but why didn’t I just stop when I moved on from that life stage?
Running is so, so simple – all you need is a surface and some sneaks, and these days you don’t even need the sneakers. But I think what’s at the heart of it is that as much as running is a simple act, it is equally versatile in its rewards. We all fall in love with it for one reason, like the author of the quote above who needed to find an outlet for her distress, but we stick with it for countless more reasons. Because we are not forever in that life stage that we were when we first began to run, so running has to be more than what it was at that time. As we evolve, so too do our running experiences.
Running gives us control in a life of chaos. It gives us freedom in a world of obligations, a six or ten or twenty mile stretch of selfish escape. It boosts our confidence, builds our endurance, tightens our abs. It lets us process difficult feelings and thoughts.
People sometimes ask what we are running away from. I understand the sentiment, but what those people are misunderstanding is that running is always, always a way of running TOWARD something. Any runner will tell you that they feel twice as alive after a run as before it, and never the other way around. Even when you’re running to get space from a disturbing situation, you’re still actually giving yourself space to meditate on the issue, to process your thoughts and begin work to confront and resolve the issues, rather than ignoring them and pretending that doing nothing is better than running. Cause it ain’t.
Running builds character, teaches the value of setting goals and how to deal with defeat when you don’t reach those goals. It encourages a positive recovery process, mentally and physically. It teaches us discipline and long-term planning. Sure, it lets us blow off steam after a stressful day, but it also makes a great day even better. It lets us discover new trails and explore even our own hometowns like children again.
It forces us to keep up with our laundry, to know east from west without a compass and to calculate distances and directions without a GPS.
A lot of these are just the unexpected secondary benefits of running, the things I think most people never really consider too deeply. We just run because it feels good, and when it doesn’t feel good, it at least feels right. But those things are all there, and they’re the aspects that make us keep plodding on. Because even if we did run at the same time in the same shoes at the same-ish place everyday, we don’t need nor do we have the same run everyday. And it’s these unexpected rewards that keep us going year after year.
There’s this song I like to run to by Bruce Springsteen, and if I could sum this post up in a modified version of his lyrics, I’d say that six years later I’m still going strong because at the end of every hard-earned run I’ve found some reason to believe.
North Bank Trail on north side of the James – it has to be the good life when you’ve got that in your backyard. And, can’t forget, happy birthday to my Dad today!! Hope your 39th year is a good one!