Last weekend, I ran a half marathon (13.1 miles) in Central Park. Here’s what it feels like to run 13 miles:
Mile 1: Let’s take it nice and slow. Ah, this feels good. What a lovely morning.
Mile 2: Almost 10% done. Deep breaths. This is good. This is fine.
Mile 3: OK, we are at the top of Central Park. Oh, a water stop! *glug glug glug*
Ahhh here come the endorphins. Sweet, sweet endorphins.
You know, I was never good at running. I’m still not. I don’t know why I do this. Running makes me hurt all over, it’s made me dry heave, it’s given me severe dehydration, it’s provided too many blisters and shin splints and cramps and nipple bleeds and random, unexplainable owwwwies.
There are times when I think about quitting. Not this race, no, I’ll finish this race, even if it kills me. Otherwise, I won’t get the big, shiny medal. And I love big, shiny medals!
But I’ve thought about quitting running altogether. Sometimes I hate running, especially when it’s cold out and my fingers start to numb and my knees start to scream. There are easier ways to stay in shape. Running is INCREDIBLY HARD and A VERY LONG PROCESS and SOMETIMES VERY PAINFUL. But, shoot, that’s part of the fun. You should do things that aren’t easy. That’s where the good stuff is. It’s incredibly rewarding. The soreness is a reminder that I’m doing something with my life. Even if it hurts. Even if no one notices.
And I guess that’s what keeps me from quitting. Why would you quit something you love?
So I run. I’m not trying to beat anyone. I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other, challenge myself, and do my best to remain present. Through the pain, I find serenity.
I’ve never meditated, but when you’ve run for an hour, you start to meditate. By this point your body has sufficiently drugged itself with natural opiates, and things start to feel pretty good. You sort of forget about the world and turn inward. You go on autopilot. Sometimes you pee yourself a little. I don’t know, some weird stuff happens.
It is 2016, and we are constantly tethered to the world. Our phones are always on us, we can be reached at any time, and we all just sort of accept that now. But when I run, I block out everything. I tie my shoes, leave my worries behind, turn on some music, and … just … go.
OH THANK THE LORD, THERE’S A WATER STOP.
Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.
I wonder if I could reach that mile marker before the song ends.
I remember when I finished my first race in high school. It was only three miles, but up to that point I had never run more than a mile or two. It was a cold, rainy day, and I ran through puddles and slush and mud that went over my ankles. I remember seeing the finish line and getting a burst of energy. I put my hands up, crossed the finish line, and high-fived my teammates. It was euphoric.
And that’s what running can do. It can make you feel like you’re on top of the world. All these years later, I still feel the same way when I see the finish line. It’s the great northern light, beckoning me home.
Sometimes I don’t finish. Well, one time. I ran the 2013 Boston Marathon and for four hours I felt like anything was possible. And then I was a half mile away from the finish line when bombs went off. Three people died and dozens were wounded. The race ended with me frantically texting my parents, finding my friends, and walking to safety. I’ve written before that it was the best and worst day of my life.
Every time I run, I think about that day.
Matthew Inman wrote the greatest thing on running that I’ve ever read. He came to this conclusion: running is not about vanity. If I wanted to look good I’d get a gym membership and stand in front of a mirror doing bicep curls. I’d go tanning and drink protein shakes and participate in all the other synchronized stupidity that has come to embody bad gym culture.
Running is not about building strength. It’s about finding strength.
It’s a process. Sometimes my thoughts turn negative when I run. My subconscious wakes up and starts asking questions. HEY REMEMBER THAT AWKWARD THING YOU DID ONCE? HEY LET’S THINK ABOUT ALL OF OUR LIFE’S REGRETS. HEY, WHY AREN’T YOU RUNNING AS FAST AS THAT OTHER GUY? OR THAT GUY? OR THAT GUY??
But then I run a bit longer, and those thoughts fade away, and the music gets louder, and I start to feel good. I got this. Life’s just a bit better here, in the calm serenity of a long run. Everything’s gonna be OK.
Mile 13.1: OH MY GOD IT’S THE FINISH LINE, PRAISE JESUS!!!