By: Ella R.
Last week, a family friend was talking to my mom and me about her son, who is a member of his school’s track team. She showed us pictures of him finishing a race, his face contorted with the unbridled effort of a final push. Another image of him, this time at the starting line, captured a wild glimmer in his eyes and a half-smile on his lips that undoubtedly accepted the challenge of the impending 1600 meters. We all laughed at his intensity, and our friend explained that her son loved competition.
“I think that’s really the only reason why he runs,” she said. “I don’t think he really likes running.” She turned to me. “I mean, do you?”
I instinctively began to say yes, to defend the sport that many people often deem too boring or painful to participate in. Yet her question made me pause. One can list countless benefits to running on a track or cross country team – improving fitness, meeting new people, participating in competitions – but what about the actual act of running? Do people really enjoy it, in and of itself? I found that my own feelings were surprisingly difficult to articulate. For me and, I suspect, other runners, it is tough to separate the act of running from, say, the endorphin rush and sense of accomplishment that follow it. I recognized that the sensations and memories we associate with something are crucial to how we perceive it.
As I thought more about my own experiences, I realized that this idea is central to my running story. As a freshman, I joined the cross country team with an apprehensive attitude towards the sport. Yet, as I experienced the camaraderie of the team and the thrill of getting faster, I found myself committed to, even enthusiastic about, the sport. Running now had a host of positive associations for me, and that makes a huge difference in the attitude with which I think about running and approach it. Of course, it can also work the other way and it does for many people. Perhaps running endless laps in gym class makes you associate running with boredom or punishment. Maybe it’s the overwhelming emphasis you or someone else places on running faster, longer, more often – and the subsequent feeling of guilt and shame when you fail to do so. A variety of factors can contribute to our ideas about running and, thus, the way in which we experience it. It is the same for any activity, really – someone who consistently approaches something with a negative attitude, even if it is unconscious, will most likely enjoy it far less – or dislike it much more – than someone who adopts a more positive view.
Of course, a positive attitude can only take you so far, and that’s where we get back to answering my family friend’s question. Though some people might find it hard to believe, I do love to run. Like anything, it can be difficult, but, to me, this takes nothing away from why I love to run. In fact, pushing myself and learning what my body is capable of are two of the reasons running is so satisfying for me. When I run, I feel strong, sure of myself, and capable. I am listening to my body, working with it, telling it when to go faster or slow down. In doing so, I feel distinctly connected to myself in a way that makes me feel very independent and self-reliant. As simple as it may seem, it often feels remarkable that I am moving myself, that the contractions muscles are carrying me down the road. Not every run is great one, but, at its best, running is a place I go to for decompression, peace, and rejuvenation. It both energizes, calms me, and tires me while teaching me just how much I can do.