This afternoon, I ran 7 miles, a new personal best. I began running regularly about three and a half months ago, as a way to keep up the physical fitness that I had gained working in the field in Alaska all summer. Before this fall, I was never a runner. I have been in good shape most of my life, but that comes from all the hiking, kayaking, and other outdoor activities I do in my free time. But, I always hated running, and though I could hike all day long, I could barely run a mile when I started out at the end of August. For some reason, this time, unlike all the other times I have tried to start a regular running routine in the past, I stuck with it. Maybe it was the 5-mile race I had signed up for, scheduled for 2 months after I started running, that kept me motivated. Maybe it was that I found a training partner, someone to share my milestones with, someone who could both motivate me, as well as look to me for motivation. Or maybe, it was simply that I am mentally stronger now than I ever was in the past, and can struggle through pain without giving up better than I ever have before.
Whatever the reasons, I stuck with running. After a while, it became routine. Then, at some point, I actually started to enjoy it (something I never thought I’d hear myself say!). Not only do I enjoy the way I feel after a run, the exhilaration of exhaustion, getting in better and better shape, and looking at my über-tone legs, but I also enjoy the actual run itself, while I’m doing it. Sure, it’s painful sometimes. Sometimes shin splints make me want to give up and limp home, sometimes my legs are just tired and scream at me with every step to stop, and sometimes my breathing is off and I gasp for air, wondering to myself why I’m even doing this. However, if your mind is strong enough to get past all that, if you can convince yourself to keep going, if you can find that space in your head where you can ignore the pain, you reach a point in the run when you start to feel better. You can breathe again, your aching legs suddenly seem lighter, and suddenly you feel like a million bucks because you realize that you made it through once again, and you are still going. It’s in these moments when anything seems possible, problems seem solvable, wrongs are forgiven, and anger melts away. In these moments, it’s nearly impossible not to feel great about who you are and what you are doing.
These feelings won’t necessarily last the rest of your run, however. I have discovered that for myself, on my typical runs ranging from (up to this point) 2-4 miles, I’ll go through the cycle of euphoria and pain several times, each time requiring all my willpower to get through the difficult parts. But the good far outweighs the hurt, and once you’ve experienced the runner’s high, it’s hard not to be addicted.
I headed out for a run today, planning to do approximately 3-4 miles. I began running without a definite plan in mind, then after the first mile decided to check out a section of a new route I’ve been wanting to try, part of which winds through the Penn State Arboretum. The entire time, I planned to just run through the Arboretum and then directly back to my house, making it about a 4.5-mile run, still slightly more than I usually do on a regular basis. Around mile 4, I was feeling pretty strong, and decided to keep going past the turn-off to my house, in an attempt to break my previous distance record of 5 miles. As I continued, something strange happened. I no longer was cycling between periods of pain and feeling good. I was just feeling good. Really good. So good that, when I hit 5 miles, I decided that I was going to go for 6. And when I passed the turn-off that would have ended my run right around the 6-mile mark, I kept going yet again, finally looping back to my house for an almost-even 7 miles.
When I arrived back home, I felt thoroughly exhausted, and even now as I sit here writing this, I can feel that my muscles are going to be extra sore tomorrow. But when I was running, though my exhaustion did register during that last mile, it didn’t feel bad. Not in the same way that the aches and pains and shortness of breath feel bad during the first couple miles of a run. This was like a different, even more intense form of runner’s high. A feeling that lasted and carried me through not one, but two extra miles. Just yesterday, I was lamenting to my training partner about how I didn’t think I could run 6 miles yet. Today, I ran 7. To me, running is not just about being in good physical shape. Though that may have been my reason for starting, and that aspect is still important to me, running has also become about the mental battle. It’s about pushing yourself to do things you couldn’t do before, things you may have never even thought possible. It’s about not giving up, even when the going gets tough. It’s about being able to find that place in your mind that gets you through those tough parts, the thoughts you think to keep yourself going. And then, the perseverance, willpower, strength of mind, positivity, confidence, and self-respect that you can gain from running can’t help but make its way into other aspects of your life.
So, I continue to run. I keep pushing myself. And when I don’t feel like lacing up those running shoes and tackling the pavement or the trails, I’ll remember today, and remind myself of the day that I fell in love with running in a whole new way.