I like to run. It’s a morning ritual: my alarm rings and I groan out of bed, stretching and shaking the morning’s inertia from my body. I lace my shoes, don my polyester shorts and walk outside. Bitter cold — the kind that pricks your skin like a needle — usually greets me when I exit my dorm. The sting feels good as it shakes off the last traces of sleep.
A brief moment of hesitation, and then I’m off. I start slow, my plodding steps hitting hard ground. A cyclical motion; left, right, left, right. As I lumber along, my limbs loosen. They stretch joyously, hungry for motion. The outside world slowly trickles away — left right, left right — as momentum drifts me through the next few miles.
My favorite run was in Austin, Texas, on a long raised platform called the Boardwalk Trail. I can still see it now. The platform hugs the edge of Lady Bird Lake, a thin body of marble blue water that borders downtown Austin. On the lake’s opposite bank, the city’s silver towers look resplendent in the March sun, their clean, crisp chrome gleaming against the glassy water.
As I begin my jog, I see the other runners on the trail — some are veterans, powerhouses, marathon runners. They blow past me, their lean bodies and smooth strides evidencing years of regimen. Of course, the trail also harbors the neophytes, more like me: the college-aged women in colorful Nike outfits; the grandfathers earnestly speed-walking in neon visors.
Mid-way through, I spot my friends ahead of me. I’m gaining on them, about to lap them. I increase my pace, my smooth, methodical strides becoming frenzied pattering. As I pass them, I hear one them scoff, “Hotshot!”
But my increased pace is too much; I’ve expended my reserves. I begin to grit my teeth, and my breathing grows ragged. My steady strides turn into leaden, laborious thuds, and seconds after I’ve lapped them, my friends pass me by.
I exhale sharply, a tired “whoosh.” “Y’all go ahead,” I call to them. “I’m going to walk this one out.”
My friend Aaron looks back at me — he’s smiling, but his face is surprisingly stern. “You’re not walking, Jack!” he calls. I scoff. I’d spent my energy; there was no way I could finish. But he’s insistent. “Don’t do it. Keep going!” he goads before speeding up to join the others.
As they run out of sight, I weigh my options. My legs scream to quit, but Aaron is right. I know that I would regret stopping; giving up would feel worse than the pain. I continue my pained pace, staring at the water’s vista to distract myself from the burning in my calves. Slowly, very slowly, despite my aching limbs, I make it back to the beginning of the trail. And though my body burns, I feel euphoric for having made it back.
As headstrong college students, we like to think we can handle anything. But there will often come times when we feel like quitting. We will be exhausted by schoolwork and extracurriculars, worn out by social pressures, beleaguered by doubts about our direction. In these struggles, we’ll be tempted to give up, just like I wanted to give up on the Boardwalk Trail.
But through all my moments of doubt, I’ve had various Aarons to spur me to the finish line — to convince me that I could do anything, to challenge me to be the best version of myself. If it weren’t for these people — with their insistence that I can make it to any finish line — I would have started walking a long time ago. Finding them should be one of our highest missions.