Running Miles from Reality

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It’s one thing to say you’re going to get up and move; it’s another to actually do it. Each soccer practice used to fill me with dread, especially when that four letter word was being tossed around: mile. It was 1600 meters of me trying to keep pace with my long-distance-inclined teammates, aiming for the time that would keep me from sitting on the bench for the first matches, and ultimately gasping for breath at the end of the second lap.

Can you tell that I wasn’t fond of running? Don’t even get me started on the 120 yard sprints down the soccer field we had to run.

Each moment of those three mile “fun” runs in middle school timed miles in high school, and countless sprints, my teammates and I would look at each other, the message clear: this is what death feels like.

After the first couple minutes there comes a point when you’re thinking of everything: every muscle that’s burning, every breath, every stressor, every item on your to-do list, every memory, every regret, every triumph. It’s overwhelming. Your chest tightens, your legs become weights holding you down, and you want to stop. You want to stop all the thoughts, and you want them to go away, to disappear forever. You tell yourself you can stop, you don’t have to finish, you can be done after this lap, after this sprint.

“When you’re running and you are there and you’re running there’s a little person that talks to you and that little person says “Oh, I’m tired”, “My lounge’s about to pop”, “I’m so hurt”, “I’m so tired”, “There’s no way I can possibly continue”. And you wanna quit. Right? That person, if you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running you will learn how to not quit when things get hard in your life.” —Will Smith

Then you’re thinking about nothing at all. You get taken to this space where it’s only the feel of your feet on the ground, moving forward, pounding right, left, right, left, right, left. Legs and muscles take over and never cease. You don’t stop until you feel like you’re going to collapse, throw-up, or die of exhaustion. Only in dire circumstances do you give yourself some time to recover, and then the moment you feel better, you go again and again and again. Soon, all the reasons you thought about quitting turn into the motivation to keep moving. One more lap, one more sprint, one more minute, one more burst of energy.

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” —Lance Armstrong

When you’ve left your cleat tracks all over the field from chasing down countless forwards who threaten to encroach on the goal you’re supposed to protect and the game’s over, and when you’ve left your sneaker print on the track or pavement after accomplishing the time or distance you set out to meet, that’s you can finally collapse in a wave of endorphins. It happens every time. As soon as it’s over, I’d lay down on the ground, stretch my limbs out, feel myself breathing in and out, and say, “I want to go again.”

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That’s what running does to you: it tortures you into loving it to the point of addiction. After you pass the pain of exerting your muscles and of everything wrong in life, you arrive at this place where you are the one in control and can run and run and run. And you do it because you realize just how strong you are and how far you’re capable of going.

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