On Sunday I ran seven miles. I believe that’s a new record for me.
Sure, there are people that run that far every day. Maybe twice a day. Seven miles makes just over half of a half marathon, which is half of a full marathon— and there are folks out there who run one of those at least every day. (Well… maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but comedian Eddie Izzard did manage to run 27 full marathons in 27 days earlier this year.) So, yeah, my seven miles is not a huge deal.
I grew up running varsity track through middle and high school for around five years between 7th and 11th grades. I was a mid-/long- distance runner, specializing in the 800m and 1600m races, so I’m not exactly a stranger to long training runs. I never did cross country in the fall, though, so before now I’ve never really extended into true higher mileage training. I think in my high school career, I topped out at about 6 miles.
So the completion of what may be my first seven-mile run marks the beginning of my voyage into new territory.
I decided at the beginning of this summer that I needed some sort of solid goal to reverse my body’s slow decline into pudding-blob jelliness. I’ve gone through “I’m going to start running again” campaigns in the past to no real success: when your only goal is some abstract “running” or “fitness”, it’s hard to get yourself to “run” or “do fitness” every day when you leave the choice up to your own mood. So this time I’ve committed myself to a concrete goal with a structured training plan, and I’ve gone around and told nearly everyone I know that I’m doing it so I’m compelled to actually follow through— under penalty of severe shame and embarrassment.
I’ve put myself on track to run a half marathon at the end of the summer, just about the time I should get back home to Utah. I just finished Week 4 of a twelve-week training schedule.
Besides the very concrete reasons of training and fitness, I think I naturally turn to running when I move to new places and unfamiliar circumstances (even if not always in as regular a manner as I’m currently keeping). When you’re thrust into a new environment and have to shoulder different responsibilities and aren’t quite sure how expectations are stacking up against you, it’s very easy have your feet pulled out from underneath you and to find yourself free-falling as you lose control of your situation and little parts of yourself. Running, I’ve found, gives me a sense of control when everything else may begin to fall loose.
Running is familiar and uncomplicated; for someone like me who has neither the coordination nor the patience to put up with more elaborate hobbies or means of recreation, it’s perfect. The actual act of running itself really requires nothing more than a decent pair of shoes and a halfway reliable internal compass. And there aren’t a lot of variables in the act that are left out of your hands: when running, you have the power to determine how fast you go, how far, and (for the most part) where you end up.
I prefer to run without a phone, without headphones, with really nothing at all. A lot of people will decry how the unbroken monotony of an undistracted run will make the run seem longer, harder, and more unbearable. But I find running to be a valuable form of meditation.
During the time that I’m out on a run, I’m a captive audience to my own thoughts. There’s no sort of media content to bombard and distract my mind, and because I have nothing else I should be doing at that exact moment, my thoughts are free from being picked at by a sense of obligation and things “I have to do…”. It makes for an ideal time to work things through my mind, whether that be a song that’s been stuck in my head all day—often a single line will loop continuously through my head through the whole run until I practically sweat the darn earworm out— or more complicated thoughts or emotions. The continuous movement in a run allows me to work things through without being overwhelmed by the physical sensations of anxiety, so I find it a valuable time for contemplation.
Sometimes, though, my mind goes mostly blank as I’m consumed by the sheer act of running. The difficulty breathing, the aching muscles, the maintenance of pace, those things most people try to distract themselves from while running—sometimes I allow those things to occupy my thoughts instead of everything else my mind usually ends up chewing over and over.
As I’ve moved and run in different places, I’ve found running to also serve the very practical function of introducing me to a new neighborhood. When I’m running, I’m often wandering around places I would never end up in my point-A-to-point-B destination-oriented commutes. Through running, I can get a feel for the neighborhood and discover where neat stores are, or stumble upon different paths and parks. Being out there on my feet allows me to map things out and know things for myself.
Sometimes there may be a little trial-and-error and I’ll end up 3 miles off of where I thought I was, but that’s usually when I learn the most.
As my mileage keeps creeping up, from 7 miles this past week to 8 this next, I keep venturing a little farther and farther out, and I’m left with more time to myself and overall a greater sense of power.