You might remember from my post about my summer that I've taken up running as a form of exercise. Yes? Ok. I'm still as invested in it as I was before, and I've been militant about keeping a consistent running schedule since I've been back at Oberlin. It hasn't been easy, since this semester in particular has been incredibly busy, but I've managed to find the time at least three times a week to run around.
In a way, running to me has become a bit like acting. I can be whoever I want when I'm out on the road, field, track, trail, or treadmill (which, most of the time, is Muhammad Ali). But the key thing is that I'm completely focused on the task at hand, so entirely immersed in striking one foot in front of the other and breathing out on one count and in on two counts, that I have little cognitive capacity to let my mind wander to the things I worry incessantly about (Will I end up living alone with fifty cats one day? What really happened to Amelia Earhart?). Running has come to represent play, or make-believe, while also providing respite from the intensities of my everyday realities.
I didn't really expect that running would become such an important part of my weekly routine, so important that I actually can't sit down and do homework for five hours straight without feeling the urge to go and run somewhere for at least fifteen minutes. I wasn't a huge fan of running even when I played lacrosse and field hockey, so my love for it now comes as a surprise. Before I started running regularly, I, like most people who aren't runners, dismissed the idea of it because it seemed that if you weren't physically fit to start with, running was a painful and laborious pursuit. But after I ran for forty-five minutes straight with no pain on my first try, it's led me to have a different outlook.
Except all of that is changing now, since I've started to take running more seriously. Over the last few months, my body has become stronger, and I've had to increase the intensity of my runs to keep things from getting too easy. With that comes challenging the stamina of your body, which often yields pain and at the very least, soreness (if anyone in Burton has ever heard someone groaning in pain as they slowly ascend the east stairwell, know that it was probably me, and it's nothing to worry about). You would think that partaking in an activity that's sometimes really painful would make your body discourage you from doing it, but I've found it's been the opposite with me. Yes, there's pain, but it doesn't keep me from putting my shoes back on and going out for another run.
Since the pain that comes with running doesn't trouble me anymore, I'm starting to understand why my dad, who's been running marathons for close to ten years now, has dealt with the pain of the sport with a level of calm that completely perplexed me for years on end. To put it in non-athletic terms, I think it's the same reason why I kept playing violin when my fingertips hurt from being callused over, or guitar when I had sliced my cuticles open on the strings (which is why it's important to learn how to hold a pick properly). I even kept singing after I got an electric shock from a microphone and then cut the inside of my lip from knocking into yet another mic. The enjoyment of a physical action simply begins to outweigh the physical pain that happens sometimes. And it's a sign that you've reached a level of proficiency in something where pain no longer deters you from the motivation to improve. That said, self-preservation is really important, and, in all seriousness, getting an electric shock from a mic was terrifying and should DEFINITELY NOT be considered a rite of passage in punk rock circles.
[I suppose while I'm on the subject of pain and proficiency, I should clarify the wariness that I regard Damien Chazelle's film Whiplash with. As a musician, it just makes me really uncomfortable, because I honestly hope that there's no one in the world who saw it and took the hilariously over the top sweat-dripping and blood-splattering-onto-cymbals completely seriously. But I'm going to get back to talking about running now because this is a digression.]
The feeling I get after I finish a particularly good run has become an important component in maintaining my self-esteem during episodes of crippling self-doubt that can inevitably come with being a college student. Because I've more or less always had a "I don't care about being The Best all the time to everyone because I'm in this for me" attitude about most things in life, including running, I see the sport as a type of safe zone for myself. Yes, I used to be even faster than I am currently right now when I was a three sport athlete and a lowkey lax bro, who was dreaming of playing goalie for Harvard's women's ice hockey team, but I've had to make peace with the fact that the injury that ended my hockey career when I was thirteen, a tear to the labrum in my right hip, has had irreversible effects on my body. I'll never be Allyson Felix or Mo Farah, I'll only ever be me, and I've found running to be an incredibly effective way of building a healthier relationship with myself due to its solitary nature. Even if I were to run in a race now, I would only focus on my own performance, which is a total 180 from where my outlook was back when I was a serious athlete. I'm not demonizing having a sense of healthy competitiveness, in fact, there's still a part of me that's that kid who always took gym class way too seriously. I just know how to keep things in perspective for myself now.
I'm not expecting to break the treadmill or the pavement every time I put on my running shoes, but if I happen to do exactly that, figuratively and within my own metrics of success, it can be incredibly helpful in alleviating the anxiety I have about maintaining a fierce GPA at all times. For instance, if I don't happen to do as well on an exam as I had hoped to, there's still the chance that I'll be proud of myself for breaking a personal best on a run later that day. Not to mention that exercising in general causes a release of endorphins in your brain, which makes you happy, as we've all learned from watching Legally Blonde. Meeting my weekly running goals gives me with a sense of accomplishment and also acts as a starting point for all of the other things I have to do.
For better or for worse, running has helped me keep my sanity this semester. I was lucky enough to be cast in a theatre department play, and between that and all the other things that I do, it's been moderately stressful. However, the experience of sore muscles and callused feet have acted as a reminder to take care of myself, and are also testimonies to the resilience of the human body, and spirit, perhaps. I've learned that going to Philips to run on the treadmills is totally not scary at all, so I would encourage anyone who thinks it would be really scary to give it at least one shot. For me, the physical and psychological need to run completely eclipses any superficial insecurities. Perhaps it gives me an opportunity, for once in my life, to not overthink things.