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When I tell people I'm a runner, I am accustomed to getting very bewildered reactions. They wrinkle their noses, groan, tell me I'm crazy. And then they ask me "Why??" "Why would you EVER want to do THAT? Running sounds horrible."
Well, that is the easiest question I can answer. I run, quite simply, because it is the only time in my life that I am able to fly. I've wished for wings since I was a little girl dreaming of flapping away into the wild blue yonder, and when I run, my lungs fill with the crisp, crystal-clear air; my legs pump and carry me off into another stratosphere. Running is when I can work through my problems, or forget them if I wish. Running is one of the times I get most of my creative inspiration. Running brings me closer to nature, to the chirping birds and the chattering squirrels, to the wide blue sky and the wild world and the universe. I get in touch with my spiritual side when I'm out by myself on the trails late at night, or surging up a hill in the haze of morning or the confident and brazen light of afternoon.
I feel the most at home when I'm pushing my body to its absolute limits, skidding around corners like a race-car driver, my lungs scrabbling for air. When I run, it is the happiest I am all day.
I suppose all athletes feel this way about their respective sports, but I feel that mine connects me to a side of myself I never knew existed before. My training keeps me sane and ignites a crazy spark in my soul. I love and hate setting my alarm for 8:00, 7:30, 6:30, so I can drag my tired body out of bed and go to practice. My hardest, most impossible workouts both exhaust me and thrill me beyond my energy capacity. Because the thing is, what I once thought was impossible is truly not. I learn this every day, every time I beep my running watch to life and log another set of miles.
I need running in my life like I need to breathe. Actually, I need it more than I need to breathe, considering that my coaches are training my lungs to need less and less oxygen so I can race over the steepest hills with no trouble.
I run because of my teammates, because being on a team has brought me closer to this group of twenty-six girls than I ever thought was possible. Me, the former shy girl who never ventured outside her circle of four or five friends... on a team and discussing intimate thoughts and feelings. Me, running alongside the same few girls for an hour or so six days a week, nine months a year, and learning the idiosyncrasies of both their running forms and their personal lives. Mia runs with her arms held high and close to her body; Jean is lanky and thin and charges ahead with purpose. Anne will never hesitate to tell you her every passing thought or opinion. All of them are some of my closest friends.
I run because I love the way it makes my body feel so strong, so sure of itself, so powerful.
So, why do I run? I run because it strengthens me, nourishes me, and makes me more happy than anything else in my life. I do not run just to say I did it, or just to collect medals or cute T-shirts from races. I did not choose cross-country to stay in shape for another sport. Cross-country IS my sport. I do not run for the accolades, but they are a tangible reminder of how hard I've worked, and I display them with pride when I get them. I run because it is my calling. And maybe one percent because I get to eat more carbs.
But, in all seriousness, I encourage everyone to find something that ignites their soul in the way running does for me. What is life if not a glorious pursuit of happiness?
So, make your heart sing and your mouth turn into a permanent smile. Don't give a second thought to what people think of your hobbies or your interests. If people ask you, "Why do you like to do THAT?"—then tell them. I believe that we can make our world slowly better by reveling in our differences rather than backing away from them. That must be the reason we all have different interests--so that we can share them with one another and be able to live vicariously through another person's joy.
And, yes, that means you can watch me while I eat my fourth dish of pasta. :)