Finding the Joy of Running

It was the 6th of June, 2015 and with less than two weeks left of school, I’m gonna be a sophomore! Almost half way there! But more than anything, I was really, really psyched to finally chill on the family couch with my phone on my lap, zoning off on the Xbox for the next two and a half months of summer break. With a box of Hostess Powdered Donuts and platefuls of pasta at my side, I was ready to devour this feast of kings then ask my mom for seconds. What a life! And yet, before I began this ritual, I was finishing some reading for Social Studies in my study hall when one of my friends suggested that I should join the Cross Country running team for the fall. I initially held back, afraid I wasn’t in the best of shape, but Scott and a few of his friends were joining so why not meet some new faces! I came to the sign-up meeting a few days later and Coach Collins explained the workout plan. We’d have to run five days a week with three “regular runs” (anywhere from 3–5 miles) one fast 2–3 mile run and one long 5–8mile run. While Collins would lecture about how important it is to train I peered behind my shoulder few times to get a picture of how many kids were joining. I counted up around 23. Immediately I felt a bit intimidated by these future teammates, as the majority of them had run since their freshman year. Was I willing and honestly wanting to commit my time to train instead of wallowing in my paradise back on the couch? No, you can’t go back now. I’ll look like a wus. Prove to them that your not that quiet, awkward kid in the class. Prove that you’ve got the power to contribute to the team. And with a sudden surge of unbridled determination, I had my hopes set on an almost outlandish goal; to become the MVP.

The funny thing was I actually took the workout plan seriously. I’d never run farther and faster than an 8min 24sec mile. So I worked every five days, running a roughly four mile climb up the dirt path leading to Hayes Pond. Some summer days were hot and sticky, with temperatures soaring up to the high eighties on late afternoons. On those days I would end my run with a swim in the pond. All around me there was so much lush greenery and fresh air that I hadn’t appreciated before I started training. Then, after the swim, I’d bask in the sun just before the crickets began to chirp as the moon came into view. And the more I ran that route the more time began to fly by. Before I knew it, the team was gonna meet in a few days to run the high school course. We met with our running shorts and tank tops, already breaking a bit of sweat just from the heat. Once everyone was there, we all ran the course. It was my first time running the trail and it was such a beautiful experience. Nothing was more fun than to fly through the course, bursting with the immense amount of energy from our youth as we dodged tree roots like children playfully avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. Nothing had every made me feel more alive in my life. Those were the times when we ran for the fun of it. Those serendipitous moments were far more touching than playing “Transformers: Prime” on the Xbox. Only the fact was I’m gonna be racing within the next week. Then I underwent yet another transformation.

I had endured a lot of painful races and pushed myself to the brink to prove I was more than worthy to be on the team. And as diamonds are formed with enough pressure, I trained and strained myself until I resurrected as the team MVP. I proved that I could run an 18min 5k and finish over 30 seconds before the next runner from my school. I’d finally reached my mountain top and could see how the path I took was difficult but the view felt amazing! And yet, I never came closer than 11th place out of the +100 other runners from different schools. And I was perfectly fine with that accomplishment. On the other hand, most of the top ten runners from my school were really dissatisfied whenever they had a bad run or weren’t within the top thirty out of all the racers. So as the Western Mass meet was coming around the corner, our practices became a constant succession of stress, competition, and in my case cruelty. My peers knew I’d put a lot of effort on and off the course to be where I’m at so they began making snarky comments about how I was going too try hard and out how quiet I was during practice. I’d hear them mention how it’s stupid to enjoy running when the whole point of Cross Country is solely for competition and for a better likelihood of getting into a good college. I learned to hate every moment during those last few weeks of the season. The more and more I was around them, the more likely I was to skip my Saturday run because I was “trying too hard” or “too stupid” to think running is fun. When the season was over and everyone went to the celebratory banquet, I felt pretty down to receive my medal as the MVP because of those comments from some of my teammates. This internal and external conflict had to stop before it consumed me. A solution finally came to me only a few weeks ago: quit racing XC. For all this time, I was getting too stressed by my pace per mile or my rank on the team that I was missing those moments when I enjoyed and appreciated the beautiful Berkshires, especially when the trees would change into vibrant hues of red and orange during the fall, like an enormous explosion of fireworks. I had once been taken away from such a blessing but now I appreciate such gifts by running with my eyes in wonderment of the world around me. Those moments break my internal battles and fills me up with happiness. I just don’t give a darn about how others judge my every move. It’s my choice and my time to get lost in the majesty of the world. To this day I still run six days a week not to loose weight or race against the clock. Those causes are only for the short term.

I’m sixteen and I only run to breathe the very raw, alive essence of life. My accomplishments moving forward are not measured by a crowd of cheering spectators or the time on a stopwatch, rather, by how much I appreciate the immense beauty of the outdoors. Sometimes we just need to stop for a moment and recognize that all this mayhem we may create in our lives is so insignificant to the immense scale of nature and even the universe. We could instead be enjoying what little time we have on earth by pursuing our passions and finding what makes us happy. I now run without anything tying me back from the enjoyment of the outdoors (ex. GPS trackers, step counters, etc…). This choice brought me an unexplainable sense of liberation and helped me recognize how my life is just a blip in the timeline of human history, so why should I feel restrained by a fear of not reaching my goals on some fitness tracking app on my IPhone? The key which unlocked that sense of freedom was to take the leap and to let go of those thoughts which held me back from enjoying my run. Only then did I fundamentally reset my mindset. And for the long run, I’ve had my fumbles and still may trip up in the future. But I’m more aware of what will clear my mind from it all: just take a run for the joy of it.

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