I realized earlier this month that running probably saved my life.
Last year, I ran a charity 5k organized by the club running team on my campus. I raced it pretty hard and actually ran a semi-decent time (pleasant surprise), which made my non-running friends think I was some sort of superhuman. I promise you, I’m not: I am dreadfully average. After I finished, I ran backwards around the course (let’s rephrase that: I ran the course in the reverse direction. I did not run backwards.) to pick up my friends and finish with them. This entailed me running along happily with them until the last hundred meters where I proceeded to inform them that we would be sprinting/racing to the finish–no argument–and then to scream at them as we raced. It was delightful. (One of many things I miss about running cross country/track is having an excuse to yell at people on a weekly basis.)
Immediately after, one of my friends told me something to the effect of, “Ugh, that felt terrible? Why do you do this?” I said, “I live for that feeling.”
Which is only partly untrue.
I do often think to myself during races, “Remind me why I’m doing this?” But at the same time, I love the raw pain. Even when I feel dead in the middle of a race, the intensity makes me feel alive and strong and free. Mostly, it makes me feel.
Running helps me feel. Even in normal circumstances, my I struggle to process emotions. They’re complicated and confusing and messy and a lot of times I just don’t know what to do with feelings. Too often, I think, I express all my emotions as anger (or at least that’s what I think other people are perceiving.) And at times when my life has been far from normal, this has manifested itself as the inability to feel anything. I’m simply empty: I don’t feel joy or sadness or excitement or frustration. Sometimes I can identify anger or pain or an sense of being overwhelmed, but this is pervaded by an overall feeling of desperate, vacuous emptiness. It’s been in these times–when it’s hardest for me to get out the door–that running has helped me the most. When I don’t know what or how to feel, at least I can feel the tightness in my lungs and the frantic beating of my heart and the burn in my quads. I can feel the urge to kick to the finish line or make a split on an interval or slough through a workout. I can feel something real. For a few minutes, the pain makes me feel alive. For a while, that’s all that kept me alive.