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For the Love of Running This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By , Lake Oswego, OR
Every leaden step strained my burning muscles. I gulped for breath but received no air. Sweat dripped into my eyes, stinging them with salt. I felt no pain; actually, I couldn't feel anything. I could hear voices, but I couldn't articulate any response. I ignored the pull of gravity and lunged forward. All the while the only thought I could form was Why am I doing this?

I started cross-country freshman year. My parents insisted I do a fall sport, and cross-country seemed the perfect sport for me, since it required no hand-eye coordination, no expensive gear, and I didn't have to bench-press my body weight to try out. I bought a new pair of Nikes. I had my $300 registration check. I had (unwillingly and uncomfortably) turned my head and coughed during my physical. In my freshman naivete, I conceived the foolish notion that I was prepared for the trek ahead.

Now here I am, sitting at a computer with knees that have taken four years of pounding up hills and an extremely warped mindset on the nature of what genuine strength entails. I have seen kids with arms and legs like string beans move faster than an NFL running back. I have experienced pain beyond my comprehension, and the impossibility of surrendering to it. I have felt that inexcusable urge to quit, and the sensation of overcoming it. I have witnessed best friends collapse in exhaustion, and rivals surpass my personal record. I have dealt with extreme temperatures – and yet have not found an answer to Why do I do this?

Who would willingly haul himself off a couch to jog in the elements? Who would attempt to push far beyond his second breaking point after most normal people would give up far before their first? Why?

Runners are a peculiar bunch. We bond through the appreciation of pain, acknowledging one another with a slight nod when our paths cross on a mountain trail, or by moving slowly to the side when another runner is wheezing up a particularly large hill.

My football friends will insist that their sport is much more difficult and that running nonstop three miles is kid's stuff compared to bumping foreheads with guys in pads. I casually retort that every two minutes there is a hiatus in their game. The luxury of breaks is foreign to a runner.

Runners believe in the power of Spandex and slimness rather than biceps and protein shakes. We ritually dine on pasta and bread just for the sake and excuse of burning off the extra carbs. We feel legitimately guilty if we so much as slightly decelerate, even during a recovery. We smile when other athletes complain about doing laps as punishment while we run twice that in warm-ups.

It fascinates me that something so simple remains a consistent and vital part of any athletic pursuit, and even a healthy life. Before there were balls to kick or throw, there were feet alone. Simplicity and independence are the foundations of runners and their sport. There are no procedures, equipment, or indeed even a team. Yes, you can form pairs or groups; I have amassed four years of friends. You can don the same uniform, try to predict what splits you want to accomplish, and imagine whom you'll pace behind, but at the end of the day, you are alone. You either fail or succeed of your own accord and willpower.

The beauty of running stems from choice – the choice to continue, the question of the next route to conquer. Freedom, that is the gift of running. On a run, infinite paths reveal themselves. Walls, obstacles, pain – they are just detours. Speed, distance, and form are all relative. I am not weighed down by a set of rules. After four years, I no longer question my love for the sport. I have found my answer.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 4 comments. Post your own!

mali.MIW said...
Oct. 30 at 3:41 am:
I think that it is amazing that despite where we runners come from, we all think the same thing.  I really enjoyed reading this, it is very fluent and descrptive.  I also like how you included the dining ritual,  feeling guilty during recovery, and the complaints while doing extra laps. As to the qustion that you posed in the beginning of your narrative, I believe I may know part of the answer--if not entirely.  I believe that we runners continue to move onward through the ... (more »)
 
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runningismehlyfe said...
Sep. 30 at 10:48 pm:
i have never read a more accurate peice on running. this is amazing! 
 
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iloveyou.xoxo. said...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 7:44 am:
This piece was really good. I think you wrote it perfectly. I liked how you incorporated real-life events and details. It added a good emphasis to your writing. I know from experience that other athletes "joke" around with runners because they don't think it's a hard sport compared to their own. I know I couldn't run track, because I don't have the mental or physical stamina to push myself. Keep up the good writing! :)
 
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ckycky22 said...
Mar. 2, 2011 at 9:23 am:
this is all too true.. you always hear about big sport athletes complaining or bragging about basketball, or football, or anything like that.. but only those who have been through track and cross-country really understand what your talking about, how hard it really is to push that last rep, or go that last mile while your feet feel like they have bricks attacked to them.. very very nice writing
 
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