The Daily Gamecock

What I talk about when I talk about ... running

Just make it to the next mile marker. Then you can walk.

I've told myself this in various forms during plenty of runs and races over the past eight years. This past Saturday, at a half-marathon in Savannah, Georgia, was the first time in all those years in dozens of races that I ended up walking.

Any runner will tell you that running is as much, and probably more, mental as physical. It requires developing a bone-deep strength that will carry you through side cramps, tight muscles and cruel conditions. Every run is a balance of pushing harder and backing off, in your legs and in your mind. Every tough run requires a complete act of forgiveness.

After weeks of tough runs, questions started cropping up in my head:

What are you supposed to do when you start something that is fundamental to your development and character? Can I rebuild the mental toughness that got me through four years of cross-country and track? How long will I be struggling before I feel like a real runner again? And quietest but scariest:

Do I want to run?

After about two years of inconsistent training following an injury, I ran two half-marathons in the past month and started looking at trail and road races for the rest of the year. With friends, especially those that I ran the races with, I've done my best to put on a brave face and hide my fear that maybe this wasn't what I wanted to do.

Based on the first half-marathon, at the end of spring break: Yes. 

Based on this past Saturday: No.

"If you don't think you were born to run, you're not only denying history. You're denying who you are,” writes journalist Christopher McDougall in "Born to Run," a truly remarkable book about the Tarahumara literally translated, the "running people."

Hidden in Mexico's Copper Canyon, they are a tribe of some of the best ultrarunners (people who run upwards of 100 miles in a single race) in the world. In addition to recounting a historic race ultramarathon he helped organize, McDougall delves into the science behind the argument that humans are designed to run, and to run far.

Even before I read McDougall's book, this message rang true to me. But after a dog bite and a pretty serious injury, both during runs, my resolution faltered. I always told myself that as soon as I wasn't getting anything out of running, I would quit. Nearly every run is hard, but not running sounds harder. With so much doubt and so much struggle, what am I getting out of it?

Running is a lot like life. Sometimes it reminds us how happy and strong we can be; other times it knocks us flat. Most of the time, it feels like we're just going through the motions. What are we getting out of it?

Boston Marathon runner Cindy Kuzma wrote for Runner's World, "As runners, we willingly do hard things. We run hills, chase PRs, wreck our feet, endure bad weather and crushing setbacks. So when life gets tough, we’re not in unfamiliar territory."

It's common knowledge that life is hard, and I don't believe we're here to be happy or comfortable all the time. Whether it's running or curing diseases or perfecting your latte art, no passion is always easy. Struggling doesn't mean that we should stop trying.

I run because I know that I'll love it again. Maybe not now or later this week when it's 80 degrees and humid. Maybe not next month when I run a trail 10k. I am better stronger, happier, wiser when I run, and for now, I forgive myself for not loving it.


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