A little over a year ago, I set out to achieve one of my life goals — to run a marathon. After several unanticipated challenges, including catching COVID-19 and injuring my foot, I was fortunate enough to be able to finish my race on April 10, 2021. I then wrote a column elucidating the miseries, tribulations and satisfactions I experienced while training for, running and completing a marathon. After reflecting on all that I had gone through, I finished that column by exclaiming that I would do it all over again if given the chance — so I am.
Of course, I’m not running a marathon again simply for the sake of making my claim in that past column true — doing so would make such an ambitious endeavor feel empty and worthless, which matters because when I’m on mile 17 of my 18 mile run for the week, no superficial reason will suffice to motivate my next stride. So, the question remains — why did I decide to put myself through this arduous undertaking again?
When I signed up for the race again this past December, I did so while under the impression that the ineffable satisfaction of crossing the finish line again in April of 2022 was alone worth the forthcoming struggles. That, however, was a surface level reason. In reality, that was only a fraction of the explanation — but I didn’t understand my true motivation at that moment. This was because I knew that in the back of my mind, a deeper reason was forming, though I couldn’t unambiguously put my finger on it the moment I signed up for the race.
In between finishing my marathon last April and November of last year, I fell out of the habit of running. Life had just been too busy for me. Once the fall semester began winding down, I finally made a point to start running again, and, as soon as I did, I realized how much I missed regularly running in my life. I realized that running filled a hole in my life, and the absence of it was what was making me feel empty inside.
From the benefit of hindsight, I can now identify that the unidentifiable motivation I felt when I signed up in December was this emptiness that I felt in the absence of running — this was what drove me to commit to running it again this year. Of course, it would take me several months of training to figure out the second-order “why.” That is, why does running fill a hole in my life? Fortunately, as I sit here writing this column in the passenger seat of my car driving to Florida with a few of my closest friends for spring break, a moment of clarity came to me after 11 weeks of training — running is my rock.
By rock, I mean that running acts as a constant in my life. I can always rely on the act of going for a run to clear my head and simply allow my mind to think about the rest of my life. Thus, in this way, everything else in my life follows from running — it is my ungiving foundation and axiomatic support.
But, you might ask, “How does running keep your head clear?” or “Doesn’t running suck?” Answering both of these questions comes in two parts. My training requires both difficult and easy runs. The “easy” runs are at a pace such that I’m not gasping for air — in fact I’m breathing normally through my nose. These runs allow me to clear my head as I permit my thoughts to passively drift and meander — which, in a day and age in which we are bombarded with notifications, doesn’t happen often. So, to leave for these easy runs is to leave behind the rest of my life, as for a brief period, I can’t be reached and feel free from my upcoming responsibilities.
Now, the difficult runs are a completely different set of beasts — as I gasp for air speeding down Charlottesville’s backroads. Despite their difficulty, I still appreciate and find solace in them, as my ability to complete these workouts is simply whether or not I choose to push myself through the challenge. However, in these moments, I take solace in the fact that it is I who is pushing myself — and, how often does that happen in our lives?
I’ve recognized that there are very few times in my life that I am the one pushing myself instead of a demanding professor or old-school boss, such as the captain I worked for this past summer. So, I find refuge in this fact, and realize that after completing the workout, I’m mentally stronger simply for the fact that it is I alone who pushed myself through it.
Regardless of the difficulty of my run, those minutes, whether it’s a short 24-minute run or a long two and a half hour run, are precious to me. Running brings me motivation, focus and drive to the rest of the day.
I now give running the utmost priority, as I’ve come to understand the importance of it in my life. For example, last week I had three midterms between Monday and Tuesday, yet I still rose early Monday morning before class to get in the speed workout scheduled for that day. I chose to do it, forgoing the opportunity to study more for my exams, because I knew that I needed that run to help my mind stay focused and cope with the stress of the upcoming challenges I would face.
Now, not everyone needs to run — that is not the suggestion of this column. What I am suggesting, however, is that you find your rock — the one thing that you can rely on to provide you over and over again with a mental shelter away from the rest of the world that you can find comfort and peace in. Everyone needs their own foundation in life, so build yours out of your rock such that you can endure life’s adversities in order to enjoy its delights.