I’m not a runner. At least, I don’t wish to identify that way, in the same way that I wouldn’t want to be known as a “shower-er” or an “incessant mint eater.” These are all normal habits and idiosyncrasies that define us.
I am hesitant to talk about my running or even tout it as some productivity hack. On one hand, it has played such a significant role in my time at Georgetown that any personal reflection would likely be incomplete without it. But on the other hand, it’s running—a mindless and uncreative activity. Should I talk about how I move my right foot in front of the left? Or how my laces come undone?
Mostly, though, I worry about coming across as—or worse, becoming—self-righteous when I talk about running. It feels like every person I mention my running to conjures up a comically inaccurate image of me: that of an individual with a steadfast commitment to self-improvement.
Because while running has given me so much, and probably saved me from unimaginable depths, our relationship is complicated.
I certainly never saw myself running 26.2 miles two days from now: a verifiably insane idea, in the words of most of my friends. But when I look back at how I started, I’m not sure there was any other possible conclusion.
While most freshmen bonded over Leo’s lunches or Friday nights spent scouring the campus for free alcohol, I felt socially paralyzed. Each passing day was one where I made no friends, lost my mind over minute missteps, and lamented choosing Georgetown over my hometown school, UNC. I detested nearly everything about our university. Almost every week I’d rant to my parents for hours about Georgetown’s shortcomings: whether it was the rowdiness of my VCW neighbors, the entitlement of 100 percent (my exact quote) of students, or the alcohol-centric nature of most social events, I always had something to gripe about.
So I ran. Or I guess I should say, ran away. I thought that if I accomplished nothing else on a given day, I at least owed it to myself to stay physically fit. I started out running a 5K most days, either on a treadmill or around Georgetown. Pretty soon I felt empowered enough to try out new routes, speeds, and inclines as I got to know my new best friend.
But no matter how hard I ran or how far I ventured, I never found any peace this way. My chief concern became quotidian exercise; everything else, with the exception of maintaining some academic competence, was immaterial. I gave up on trying to measure my happiness or even consider joy a meaningful emotion. My runs were fueled by bitterness and had no room for positive emotions. I mostly felt spite and anger on every trip to Yates, escape to the White House, or dash to the Lincoln Memorial. Often, I’d start a run at full throttle with no intention of stopping until I basically couldn’t take any more.
In December of my sophomore year, I took a running detour along the Mount Vernon Trail at dusk. By the time I had stopped to rest, I realized it was dark, I didn’t know where I was, and my phone was dead. It was a fitting metaphor for my college experience. As I moved in the eerie darkness, I couldn’t help but think how lost I was, both in the immediate sense and in scarier, broader terms.
Going into my junior year, something changed. Though I still ran every day, I no longer felt the same disillusionment with my surroundings at Georgetown. Call it maturity, a rush of blood to the head, or just dumb coincidence, but I improved my situation. I started going out more, talking to people in social circles I was nominally connected to and pushing myself to establish relationships with others.
The nature of my runs changed, too. Instead of indulging in three-to-five mile mad dashes that resembled those of a socially anxious chicken with its head cut off, I took longer, more deliberate jaunts. Five frenzied miles became eight brisk, purposeful ones. Hard city pavement turned into wooded trails and long paths into Northern Virginia. My workout music changed from angsty tracks to softer ballads; one of my favorite runs was a 10-miler along the C&O Canal Towpath accompanied by “Careless Whisper” on repeat.
All of this is to say that, amidst changing life circumstances, running has emerged as a faithful constant.
This year as a senior, I stumbled into training for the Marine Corps Marathon. Following an impromptu 12-miler last January, coupled with the encouragement of my uncle, who ran the same race in 2016, I took the leap of faith. After completing a half-marathon in June, I devoted the next four months to training, an experience that has tested both my patience and physical and mental resilience. Each distance, each run, and each route has a unique story. Eight miles through Gravelly Point was my first encounter with a biker’s road rage, 10 miles on a scorching Chapel Hill day was when I spiked my water bottle and nearly gave up. And 21 miles around the National Mall was when I believed, just maybe, I had this in me.
Over 600 miles of preparation later, I feel ready to run a marathon.
But for everything running has given me, it’s taken plenty away. One thing has been my sense of self-satisfaction. While I used to give myself a proverbial pat on the back after every run, these days I take it for granted that I’ll run eight, 10, or even 20 miles on a given day.
I get noticeably irritable if I haven’t run my prescribed distance that day. The foray into running coincided with a heightened surveillance of my diet. If I’m with friends who order some pizza, I never touch a slice, and if we go out for ice cream afterward, I’ll get a coffee. I’m acutely aware that others recognize these quirks about me.
Of course, my current disposition is probably not sustainable. College has afforded me the personal schedule and space to run whenever and however long I want, and that’s not feasible in a 9-to-5 world. For all the literal and figurative strides I’ve made over the last few years, in terms of integrating into a larger community and staying fit, there remains the possibility that I return to running as an out for facing real-life problems. While there’s something symbolically appealing about fleeing my obstacles on foot, it’s practically unattainable.
I cherish and even take a certain pride in vanishing from uncomfortable situations, but the sun will soon set on that route. And unlike last time, I don’t intend to find my way by running blindly through the night.
But right now, the sun is still high in the sky. I guess I’ll just keep running.