On Running

From 7th-10th grade, I ran the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races in track because the other two spring sports (golf and baseball) were beyond my ability. Which is not to say that I was a good runner those four years. Rather, I was average or below average. I never placed in junior-high meets. And in 9th and 10th grade, I earned a “point” maybe once or twice. I improved enough by my sophomore year–getting a 5:20 in the 1,600 meter–to earn the “Most-Improved Runner” trophy. Because I loved running so much, I didn’t even sign up for track my junior and senior years. During my track years, I never ran on the weekends, never ran in the summer. I ran at practice; I ran at meets. That was more than enough for me.

In college, I tried running a few times but never succeeded more than a time or two before giving up on any kind of regimen. If I were going to exercise, it was always, always, always basketball. Then two weeks left in my senior year, I started dating Amy (a girl who in junior high and high school ran both track and cross country). We started running together. (I couldn’t keep up with her.) A few months into our relationship, we trained for a 10-k and ran it together.

Two years later we were married, and in that time I began running more regularly. I was in my M.F.A. program and running offset the amount of time I spent reading and writing. This timespan was when my love for running developed, the physical activity (mostly on a treadmill because this was in Northwestern Minnesota) a way of enduring the weather.

Later still, we ran another 10-k in Astoria, Oregon, a year later ran in the Hood-to-Coast relay (the world’s largest relay race), and a year after that, ran the Portland marathon together. I wanted to run another marathon after that; Amy didn’t. So I did run two more marathons: Omaha, Nebraska, and Brookings, South Dakota.

I love running now. Why? It’s solitary. My mind can wander. I can work through a poem, a story, an essay. I can plan a class session. I can pray.

Why? I’m only competing against myself. It’s efficient calorie-burning.

Why? As with writing and teaching, when I’m running, I feel as though I’m doing what I’m called to do, grateful for the movement. Even though I will earn no “points.” Even though I will earn no “prizes” (only the finisher’s medals and shirts).

Why? There is a joy and delight that I cannot experience in any other way.

Those are reasons why my ideal day begins with a run.

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