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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Running through life

With the sun in the sleepy stages of wakeup, lazily drooping over the horizon, an inner dialogue pulses through my mind for what seems like the thousandth time this summer:

“Keep going. When you round the corner, you can take a break. … No, I don’t need a break that’ll just make it worse, idiot … just keep chugging along. My God, this sucks. Why did I do this?”

I got it into my head that because I am a relatively active runner, the next logical progression after several half marathons is to sign up for the beast itself — the Chicago Marathon. And while the experience has been more painful than I’d ever thought — 5 a.m. wakeups to avoid the heat, double-digit runs while hungover, etc. — there has been plenty of time while out on the road to ponder the similarities between life and running. Without further ado:

Don’t wait for things to happen

Decisions are made by those who show up. So says President Bartlet in one of the greatest shows of all time. Make a few adjustments to this phrase, and it can be applicable to almost everything in life. Businesses are started by those who show up, love is forged by those who show up and, as I’ve found most applicable to running and life, change is made by those who show up. There were weeks when I got lazy, skipping several runs in a row. And my body made sure to let me know its wrath when I finally got back to it. Conversely, after three weeks straight of putting in the work and actually completing long runs, I found myself going fast and feeling better than ever. Turns out that putting in effort makes you better. Crazy, huh?

Trust your gut

Last week, during what must have been the 100th run of my training schedule, I felt horrible, cramped and slow. It was supposed to be a recovery run, but my stomach was feeling anything but relaxed. I had mile miles left when I passed a porta-potty and had to make a decision — push through the final two miles, or stop and take a … break. I broke down and stopped, and let me tell you, it’s a good thing I did. Without going into too much detail, this anecdote goes to show that sometimes your gut gets a feeling that may seem counter-intuitive or illogical. My suggestion? Shut up and listen to what it has to say, it’s usually right and can help you avoid a messy situation.

Don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit

Some days are better than others. Some runs are easier than others. If you have a three-mile run planned today and a six scheduled in for tomorrow, but you’re feeling that good ole’ runner’s high today, why not be proactive and finish that six now? Likewise, it can be tempting to turn down a fun Saturday out with friends because of a “required” weekend long run. But there will always be another day to slog through a dozen miles — there may not be another chance to go downtown on a sunny day with friends. Life can’t be neatly fit into a calendar, and I’ve found the most memorable events that have happened for me happened #spontaneously, so don’t be afraid to #seizetheday as it comes.

Things don’t always go as planned

Sometimes you’re cruising effortlessly with the wind at your back feeling as if you could easily go eight more miles. Other times, you could feel like you’re dying on a three-mile run. Sometimes, life (and love) knocks you down. What I’ve found helpful during my bad runs is the mantra “you know how to do this.” Have faith in the preparation and work you’ve put in before, and trust in yourself to be able to bounce back from a setback and come back all the faster for it.

Look out for yourself and your friends

For women, certain thoughts cross your mind, every time you head out the door. Maybe this time, the voices yelling out of cars won’t be quite so light-hearted and flirtatious. Maybe today, the man who decides to run next to me and ask me questions won’t get the hint and drop back after a few blocks. I often feel a surge of jealousy when I see guys going for a jog after the sun goes down. I love the feeling of running in the dark — like nothing can catch you, like you’re invincible. Of course, some things can and you are not. I’ve been privileged to grow up in a place where running alone is hardly ever a concern — I’ve been known to leave my phone at home when I head out the door, to truly escape. It takes the tragic murder of a girl not too different from me, partaking in my favorite pastime, to rip me out of whatever delusions my safe upbringing has shrouded me with. Let friends know where you’re going. Be alert. Have fun, but have each others’ back. That is all.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.