Why I run
♪♫♪ Let’s go out, we’ll take no prisoners / Lonely love, got to leave it behind…
For anyone who has read my blogs, it’s fairly obvious that I’m an ardent runner. I realize it probably seems like I blog about this superfluously — and this is in part because when I’m racking my brain trying to come up with something half interesting to offer my blinking cursor, I usually come up short and I end up resorting to simply asking myself if I’ve done anything remotely fascinating of late. More often than not, the answer is sadly no, and I find that I’ve once again delegated most of my free time to laps on the track or yet another race. And this is why so many of my blogs end up as recapitulations of my race experiences or my workouts.
I ran a great deal this season — since the summer, the number of race bibs on my wall has climbed seven total, beginning with the Color Run back in June. Now, a half marathon, three 5Ks, a 10K, and one marathon later…it’s almost time to wrap up the year’s running season. I know, I know, I’m crazy for spending that much money on races…I don’t even want to calculate how much it all adds up to. Although sometimes it’s all about scoping out the best deals and registering very early — several months in advance — to secure a thrifty price. I’m sure collectively it’s a huge dent in my wallet, but while I’m registering, twenty or thirty dollars doesn’t seem unreasonable for a memorable race experience, especially if it’s with my friends. You can’t pay to ever have enough time with friends, especially when you don’t know when you’ll next all be together again.
Of course the exception to this is paying for more “extreme” races like half marathons or marathons — those are incontrovertibly costly in training time and money, and it’s a real commitment to sign up for. But it’s the same in that it’s also paying for another experience, and I’m very happy that I did because since I first started running, I’ve realized that challenging myself is what motivates me to keep going even when my progress feels stagnant.
And with that, there are a number of other things I really love about running. Like a lot of other diehard running enthusiasts, I often get the question: why run? Why put yourself through the knee pain, the monotonous routine, the chest pain? Why not any other form of cardiovascular exercise that is not so mind-numbingly dull and repetitive?
Well again, like other runners, I have a slew of reasons come to mind. But if someone doesn’t enjoy running as a physical activity in itself, trying to explain the love of running is quite ineffable because, like many things you love, it’s something to be felt rather than defined in words. I can certainly see why it can seem boring—if you asked pre-college Sarah she absolutely would have agreed. But it was when I started lacing up my running shoes for myself that I started realizing how much I loved how running makes me feel.
Free. Powerful. Unstoppable. As if I could escape into a fictional world outside the boundaries of my ordinary life. If you asked any athlete about their favorite sport, they would probably answer in the same way — running is just less of a spectator sport and more of an individualized experience, which might make it harder to understand from the outside perspective.
As for concrete reasons, I don’t think I could cover it any better than The Oatmeal already did in comic. (If you haven’t checked out his work, do so! He’s quite brilliant and most hilarious.) But here’s a list of some reasons that keep me pushing forward:
- Waking up sore and aching from a run. Not to the point of pain…but just a dim reminder of feeling more fit and healthy than the day before.
- With that, pounding away an hour on the track, taking a long hot shower, and then snuggling up in bed with a book or Netflix—and not feeling guilty or lazy at all because I at least accomplished something today. This is probably the reason why I don’t get as much done as I should on winter, spring, or summer break. I shamelessly use running as a guise for productivity.
- Running through beautiful scenery in my own hometown that I never discovered as a child. I was always a good kid who stayed within the boundaries my parents drew, so it’s funny but I still find new routes and spots I never knew existed from time to time within just a few miles of my home in Naperville.
- Crafting my running playlists. I must have dozens already, at least one for each race I’ve run and then more for training for races, regular runs, light runs…and then that one power song comes on and I kick it into a sprint no matter how tired I feel.
- Drenched in sweat. It’s liquid energy. I never feel like a warrior more than I do when I’m an absolute mess and frenzied from a runner’s high.
- And of course that too — the runner’s high is so incredibly real. I’ve never experienced from medication or drugs what it’s like to be high, but this is what I imagine it feels like. The insane amount of adrenaline in my veins and that feeling of flying I get…it’s brief and only comes in too short waves on the brink of exhaustion, but…oh man, it really keeps my feet pounding on the pavement. Once I experienced it the first time, I knew I couldn’t stop running.
- Starting my days by watching the sun creep up into the sky and running toward the horizon, knowing I’ll never reach it. It’s become somewhat of a Sunday morning routine for me when I’m back home for extended periods of time. I wake up extra early and live for the tranquil, cool mornings when the world is still asleep…I’ve never been very religious, but I feel it’s the closest I come to understanding how people find the morning to be so holy. The road is my church, my shoes are my bible, my breath is my prayer.
- And then in contrast to that…feeling like I’m meditating or even hypnotizing myself because I’m so zoned and zenned that I forget I’m running. As some people might know, I was actually hypnotized earlier this year at a Campus Housing event by a real hypnotist (it’s a long story) and I think part of the reason why I was so susceptible to it is because I believe I hypnotize myself so regularly. I remember the hypnotist described the sensation as losing track of time and forgetting what you’re doing and so actions (or the suggestion of them) come so naturally…which is exactly what running feels like sometimes. It’ll be five miles later and I snap back to reality and just think…wait, I’m still running? Oh…nice.
- Closing my eyes and feeling my muscles grow tighter, my heart get stronger, pumping blood through my veins, my muscles breathing with me, my chest pounding in tune to my footfalls on the ground…
- Getting stronger. Getting leaner. Running further. Running faster. Running in spite of the cold, the rain, the storm.
- Nobody telling me what to do. Nowhere I have to be. I’ll just run away from it all. THIS IS MY TIME.
A couple of weekends ago, I went a little crazy and ran two races back to back — the Chicago Perfect 10K at Navy Pier and the popular Hot Chocolate Run 5K in Grant Park. This was slightly accidental, as I did sign up for the Perfect 10 months in advance and the Hot Chocolate Run just a few weeks ago without immediately noticing they were in the same weekend—but I was excited because I got to run the Perfect 10 for my second time and run with Brandon for another 5K.
Both of the runs are so wonderful for different reasons. The Perfect 10, while highly publicized, is a slightly smaller race with less people. I ran it for the first time last year and I enjoyed the experience very much for this reason. Running along the pier and the lake, I never once felt like I had to evade people around me and yet I still felt the camaraderie of running a race with others. There was a seamless route and magnificent scenery, and despite the biting cold of November morning, I finished feeling accomplished and refreshed. On the other hand, the Hot Chocolate 5K/15K is notoriously crowded and raucous with overpopulated corrals and a somewhat convoluted route to the even more congested chocolate party afterwards. But that kind of wild excitement is what I really need sometimes. I enjoyed myself just running a leisurely race and partaking in delicious hot cocoa and chocolate at the end.
Running has been and will always be a highly personal exercise for me. Although it’s fun to run with others from time to time, I think after indoctrinating it into my regimen for so long that I would lose touch with part of myself if I were to give it up suddenly — which makes safe workouts and rest days so important because it would be a nightmare to suffer any kind of injury and have to stop running. Hopefully, until my body gives out on me and I stop breathing, I’ll be putting countless miles on my legs for years and years to come. It’s how I will simultaneously find and restore my inner balance with an introspection that I wouldn’t be able to achieve by doing anything else.
We look like a million dollars / Every time they look at us, we’ll blow their mind ♪♫♪
(A Million Dollars—Joel Plaskett)
Sarah Lee is a junior studying neuroscience and Russian in the GPPA Medicine program at UIC. She’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do, but some of life goals include running a marathon, exploring Eastern Europe and becoming fluent in Russian. In her free time, she loves running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. A Naperville native, Sarah is a peer mentor in the Courtyard residence hall.