I’ve been running for most of my life. I started training for the cross-country team when I was 13 and never stopped. Ten miles a week, 52 weeks a year, and 15 years later I’ve run at least 8,000 miles. Probably more like 10,000 when you factor in the long runs, the half marathons, the heavy training periods.
When we were in high school, our coach used to read aloud to us from Once A Runner, to psych us up before races. I’ve never actually read the book, but the title echoes through my head all the time – it resonates. Running is such an essential part of who I am. It’s when I’m running that I feel most like myself, most in tune with my own thoughts. It’s my quiet time, the time when I allow my thoughts to spin unstructured through my mind and let them sort themselves out. When I’m angry I come back calm, and when I’m tired I come back reinvigorated. I’ve made my most difficult decisions in the space of 4 miles without even realizing I was making them.
Running has also taken me to corners of the world where I’d never find myself otherwise. Sunrise runs in Dublin along the quiet banks of the grand canal, past medeival cathedrals and castles. Hot, impossibly humid runs in Hong Kong along an elevated running track in the jungle, looking straight into the tops of skyscrapers. Just a month ago, we set out from Evora into the Alentejan countryside and found ourselves on a dirt path, running through olive and cork groves. It’s the most amazing way to explore somewhere new.
Don’t get me wrong – there are times when running is an absolute slog. When it’s hot and hard to breathe and I heave myself around the streets feeling like I weigh 100 pounds more than I do. But it’s not those times that keep me coming back. It’s the times when it’s cool and quiet and I feel strong and light. It’s the feeling of strength in my legs as my feet bounce repeatedly off the pavement. The sound of my breath in my chest, even and heavy, condensing in clouds around my face when it’s cold. The moment when I hit the second mile, which is always faster, looser than the first.