Running is an important part of my life. It hasn’t always been that way. This is a quick story of how I got into running and a glimpse into the significance that running has in my life.
I first started running somewhat regularly when I was in high school. At the time I was slightly overweight and not all that athletic. One summer evening my dad invited me on his periodic nightly run around the neighborhood. I accepted.
It was June or July in Austin, TX and absurdly hot and humid, even after dark. To make matters worse, I didn’t own running clothes, so that first run was experienced in chucks, a cotton t-shirt, and heavy khaki shorts. (You can tell that I was stylish in High School!)
That first run was a challenge. It was uncomfortable both because of the clothes and because of the newness of it all.
My moments of running were interspersed with almost equal moments of walking. That first time, and for many runs after – even after I bought some running shorts and shoes – I did not make it the whole, fairly short, distance.
Overtime I was able to increase my endurance. I was able to walk less and run more. I kept doing it through the sweat and the pain.
During this period, my dad and I ran after dinner and I was often annoyed by the heavy weight of my still-digesting meal. I hadn’t yet learned that my body prefers not eating for many hours before a run.
I continued running with him at least once a week that summer.
At some point that stopped. Likely the school year or a changing schedule threw a wrench in the whole routine. Luckily, this wasn’t the end of the story.
The story picks up again the senior year of high school. I had lucked into an off period as my last class of the day, but still found myself having to drive my sister home with me. I had a lot of time and not much to do, so I began running during this extra time when I wasn’t in the library doing school work.
Like the summer I ran with my dad, these runs were hot. Running during the peak heat of the day left me tired, sun-scorched and tired. But still I enjoyed it.
I can’t recall what kept me running during this period. I think it was partially boredom and partially me starting to realize the effects that running had on my life. I had noticed that running helped me to be productive and to destress. I also noticed that running helped me to regulate my feelings. A small investment in time and energy could ground me for hours or days afterwards. I also enjoyed the runner’s high that I would sometimes get.
There was also the escapism of it all: running on a trail with trees surrounding gave me a reprieve from the school day prior. It gave me time outdoors, with trees, sun, and other runners.
During this period, I never far. But I did run consistently. I ran 3-4 miles at least three times a week during the last days of high school. Running had turned into something I did sometimes to a habit I actively fit into my schedule.
After a short break, I continued running regularly in college. Like the end days of high school, I ran short distances (3-4 miles) often, but didn’t break much into long distance.
As the first weeks of college passed, I quickly come to realize that college was significantly more challenging and stressful than high school. Both in terms of quantity and quality of work expected, college was difficult!
With the lessons I had learned in High School, I began leaning on the regulation powers of running to help get me through the challenging and stressful times.
It was during this period that I happened across another benefit: running could help me solve hard problems.
Every once in a while I’d run into a problem I couldn’t solve no matter how long I stared at it. “Why isn’t this program working as I’d expect it to?” I’d ask myself. Sometimes these problems could be interpersonal: “How do I talk to this person about this issue I’m having with them?”. These blockers could take hours or days to resolve.
Naturally, as I did in other stressful situations, I would go for a run in these circumstances. There was a convenient trail around my college that was around 3 miles so it wasn’t too difficult to go out on a spontaneous run.
I was amazed that more often than not I would come back after my run and find a way to resolve whatever issue was plaguing me.
Perhaps it was the run. Perhaps it was simply taking a break that solved my issue. Perhaps it was a placebo. Nonetheless, I found that I was able to solve hard problems by running.1
This only amplified my drive and enjoyment of running. Throughout my college years, I kept this up.
After college I signed up for my first half marathon. Training for this half marathon I learned the joy in long-distance running.
Now, a few years later, running a half marathon is a yearly thing. These days my weekend runs are often 9-10 miles.
I am in love with longer-distance running.
There’s something magical about long runs, a feeling that a short run can’t replicate. Something changes for me when a run goes over a certain threshold time and distance. The conscious thinking I have is replaced by tired abstract thought (or lack of thought). Pain is replaced with numbness. Everything becomes a rhythm.
In this way, a long run becomes meditative to me. After a certain point it changes from an overt, meaningful act, to mere existence.
To pass that threshold and get into the meditative state I have to fight my body. The first couple of miles are always the worst. Self doubt and a desire not to run fight me. Maybe I feel nauseous. I fight against myself to continue the run. But once I do I can run for several hours on end without challenge. (Not fast though!)
Through this struggle, running can be seen as a challenge against one’s past and future performance. Whether in comparison in distance or time or speed, mind or body, the main challenger for running is yourself.
That is why I run: to challenge myself to be better.
I’m not the first to write about running.2 Nor the last. But this is my personal story.
Running brings me joy.
I know these benefits I mention are not scientifically rigorous. They’re anecdotal and my experience only. However, even if they are only a placebo the mere act of thinking they help me helps me. Maybe your experience will be the same. Maybe it won’t. caveat emptor. ↩
I highly recommend checking out Haruki Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Murakami’s book inspired me to write about my love of running. His take resonated with me deeply and he is a more elegant writer than I overall. ↩