By Nicholas Shaw
As a college English major who has been running for almost eight years it feels strange to finally write this, since this will be my first publication regarding my own experience with running. Reading and running go hand and hand for me, since even though I have always maintained intense feelings regarding running, they have always been visceral, too intense to coherently reflect on in writing. What I have lacked in the ability to reflect on my own running, I found solace in seeking the wisdom of others who were able to. That was because I have always equated my self-worth with my running performance, and for a while I truly did not know what I was worth. Though, I was not an avid reader until more recently in my running career (around the time I became an English major), reading would have a monumental effect regarding my relationship with running.
When hearing about the great runners of history, such as Steve Prefontaine or Emil Zatopek their stories are often romanticized. They are immortalized and turned into larger than life figures. I feel romanticizing great runners will always have its place in the sport, making way for lucrative films and attracting newbies to the sport, but there are also ill effects from it. As glorious as winning a race seems, as satisfying as shedding a few pounds can be, or as exhilarating completing your first marathon may feel, there is a universal truth to running and that is applicable to life itself. Running, just like life- fucking hurts.
The pain brought on by running does not only manifest in physical form, there are perhaps even greater mental and emotional strains of it. What initially drew me to running was a natural sense of work ethic and competitive nature, but what really sucked me in were the emotional effects of what racing provides. My first couple of years of running I would have natural highs and lows, but nothing destructive. However, as each year passed my relationship with running became increasingly distorted. Whenever a race would go well I would feel a grand sense of elation, even a feeling of ecstasy, but when the opposite occurred I could not even stand to look in the mirror. Running is a sport where the accessibility of others’ times makes it very easy to compare yourself to others and see how many people are faster than you, which can be a recipe for self-doubt.
For the first two and a half years of my college running career, I hated running for the most part. I worked tirelessly, but only to chase times and accomplishments. Running would stress me out to the point I would break out into hives, where I could not sleep at night, and even gave me such bad stomach issues I could not properly digest food. It was truly torture; I would have mornings where I would wake up and immediately think “You are so worthless. How have you worked so hard at something for years and are still terrible”-what a great way to start the day. Even with all of this strife for some reason I kept on running. For the longest time I thought I was running myself into this mess, yet little did I know I was running through it.
Running does not define my worth but it is how I figured out what I am worth. By running I want to show that all the highs, lows, joy, beauty, and pain that comes with life is worth charging towards.
During my junior year of college I was ready to quit running. I had felt way too much humiliation, disappointment, and pure shame towards myself to the point where I was worried about my health. At the end of my indoor season one of my friends suggested that I read Scott Jurek’s memoir Eat and Run, I read heavily for class, but I never thought of reading to improve my running. So I thought why not what do I have to lose? Instantly I was hooked, Jurek was able to present running in a way that I had never previously thought about it. I also started heavily changing my diet and just running for the sake of running, not simply for accolades. I started improvingly rapidly, as a runner and my mental outlook in general. Then of course life threw another obstacle at me. On Thursday night two nights before my first outdoor race of my junior year I came home to find out devastating news (which I cannot go into detail out of respect to those involved). This brought a level of uncertainty to my life that I would never have been able to previously deal with, but with the perspective I had gained from Jurek’s memoir, I used running to get me through it all.
Following that night were the most tumultuous two months of my life, every day was marked with uncertainty in most areas of my life, but stark clarity in one, running. Running was my solace and it was fueled by my passion to read. After reading Jurek’s memoir I began delving into more literature regarding running, gaining knowledge and perspective on various individuals’ relationships with running. I felt like I related a lot to Jurek since he described himself as an intense curious person who would often think deeply into things. However the key difference between us both was Jurek used his overactive mind to help his running, while my mind often hindered me. But with simply seeing the words from Jurek’s perspective I was able to make my weakness my greatest asset. Instead of just taking things for face value I would look up how every single thing I did affected my running, which ended up helping me become much more attuned to the present moment. In reading Jurek’s memoir I simply aimed to become a better runner, but I had no idea the profound effect it would have on me as a person.
For the longest time I thought I was running myself into this mess, yet little did I know I was running through it.
I ended up having the best season of my life and have become a far better runner ever since, but none of that is why I am writing this. Ultimately I now know that times or places or accolades do not matter, but rather perspective. As I transition from leaving college to the “real world” there are many potential doubts that have arisen about my future, but I know as long as I have running I always have one constant to look forward to. There was always a deep-seeded reason I was pursing running, even with all of the pain that I put myself through. Running does not define my worth but it is how I figured out what I am worth. By running I want to show that all the highs, lows, joy, beauty, and pain that comes with life is worth charging towards. Something inside me knew this all along; all it took was a little perspective to realize it. Hopefully this helped give you some.