As another school year has begun, my students have again seen me running. Some have spotted me in their neighborhoods after school, while others have seen me on the track in the early morning before the first bell. Several have talked about their shared love of running; more have asked, with a mix of confusion and disgust in their eyes, why I would do such a thing. Here are some of the reasons.
I run because running is simple. In an increasingly complex world, there is something beautiful about a pursuit you can do anywhere. All you need is shoes and open space.
I run because it relieves stress. On those days when my thoughts swirl around my head like a giant storm cell growing on the horizon - all lightning and rumble - running takes the charge out of the air. It allows me to think more clearly and rationally. Running is my prescription drug: 3-10 miles per day until symptoms subside.
I run because Wards Bakery makes an amazing chocolate-frosted creme-filled donut, and Lawson's Finest Liquids makes an amazing IPA. A close friend of mine bakes the most delicious pies I have ever tasted; a woman at work feeds me a steady supply of spectacular homemade biscotti; my wife's chocolate chip cookies are so good I eat them by the handful. Creeping up on forty years old, I know that is a recipe for a big gut and poor health. Running is like a vaccine against getting fat. A couple of extra donuts in Ocean City are balanced out by a few extra miles on the boards. The new craft brewery we discovered on our trip to Vermont is mitigated by a few extra hill repeats.
I run because it is my time to think. As the miles roll beneath my feet, I think about my grandfather who passed so many years ago, and update him on the events of my life. I have imaginary rants directed at people I feel have wronged me in some way, freeing myself from the burden of carrying that anger any farther. It is on the roads and trails that I plan my best lessons for my students, compose first drafts of love notes to my wife, and remember who I need to thank.
I run because it puts each day's little challenges in proper perspective and teaches me discipline. As I age, the miles get a tiny bit more challenging each year. It reminds me that sometimes Nike is right and you just have to do it; sometimes doing it isn't easy or fun. Running four miles in a driving wet snow makes packing the kids lunches seem pretty simple. Climbing a thousand feet on rocky trails makes helping my third-grader practice multiplication seem like a nice chance to relax.
I run because I need to be outside. People were never meant to spend their days moving from one climate controlled environment to another grimacing at the heat, or the rain, or the blustering cold. We were meant to test ourselves against the elements. We were meant to chase things down, and if that is no longer prey, then I will make it a PR, or my running partner, or the next speed limit sign, or my sanity.
I run because racing through a warm rain, or splashing through shoe-sucking mud still feels just as good as it did when I was ten.
I run because I used to weigh 235 pounds, and I don't want to go back, because I used to chain smoke, because I used to drink too much. I run because it lets me zone out, and gets me away from my iPhone. I run because my sons are watching me, and learning from my example. I run so I can see the leaves change color, and also hear them crunch beneath my feet. I run because I love the smell of fall, and the smell of the first fire someone has lit against the chill I feel in my fingers and my face as I run by. I run because it releases endorphins. I run so that when I experience loss, I will already be versed in the art of suffering. And enduring. And overcoming. So that when I experience joy, I have some quiet moments to really soak it all in.
Running is a simple endeavor in a complex world. I run simply because I need to.