Life for runners has been different lately. Instead of running in groups and carpooling to races, we’re running alone in places we might’ve previously considered boring. The other day, I ran circles around an office park because it was the only place I could find where there weren’t many people. I’ve run circles around my neighborhood, grumbling to myself about the lackluster scenery, and at times feeling frustrated and bored by the uninspiredness of my surroundings.
Most of my days look the same. I work from home, try to be present for loved ones, run whenever I can, and get up the next day to do it all over again. Repeats. As runners, we know them well: progression runs, fartlek runs, tempo runs, intervals, long runs, hill repeats. Lace-up, run, rest, repeat. The monotonous patterns of my life mimic my running practice now more than ever before, and I’ve been in my own head about it, not always in a good way. I usually run a variation of the same two routes every day. Not exactly inspiring, am I right?
Despite this repetition, running the same routes has inspired a new kind of mindset that I am grateful to be developing. Instead of entertaining the chatter in my head about how boring my life is right now, I’ve decided to leverage this repetition to my advantage. Over the last few months, my repeats have started to manifest themselves as mantras that I pull out of my back pocket to bolster my drive and resiliency when I need to refresh my outlook and reaffirm my commitment to running. I’ve come to rely on them during this time especially when my daily life feels uncertain and challenges in my life feel insurmountable.
Our races might be canceled, but our collective resolve is not. Instead of lamenting what I don’t have, I choose to harness my disappointment and anxiety about the future and channel it into strengthening my courage and willpower, with my sights set on brighter days. Mantras reaffirm my commitment to running and have become a way for me to get back to basics as I move through uncertainty.
“I am stronger with every stride”
Running is not always enjoyable and is often painful. I reaffirm my resiliency and my capacity for physical and mental endurance by sinking into those uncomfortable moments in life and in running. As runners, we learn how to suffer better by simply being present in our temporary discomfort, knowing that with every stride, every breath, and every moment, no matter how difficult, we’ll reach that next milestone, make it to the top of the hill, or get that PR. Smaller steps and micro-movements eventually become the realization of bigger dreams. Glennon Doyle said it best: “I can feel everything and survive. I can use pain to become.”
“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful”
How many times have I said to myself, “It will be easier to start when….” when things are perfect. When I have more time. When the stars align. I am reminded during this time that perfect conditions – in life and in running – do not exist. If I shift my attitude, other things will also shift. I shift my priorities to choose joy, and I let the chips fall. I can make the best out of a seemingly undesirable situation and might be surprised and delighted by an unexpected outcome. Making one simple decision, like lacing up and going out despite imperfect circumstances, will change my whole day. If I wait until everything is favorable, I might never decide to start that thing I’ve been putting off.
“Every breath is a gift; every mile is a victory”
My daily run sustains my energy and my mental health, but in the context of my current circumstances, it gives me something even greater. It reminds me how fortunate I am to have my body and my health, and my imperfect yet wonderful life. The scenery may not be exactly what I want, but my daily run affords me the bittersweet token of realizing how much I sometimes take for granted. I’ve found a new sense of purpose, gratitude, and joy in things I used to find mundane, like seeing random flowers growing between cracks in the sidewalk or gigantic, fluffy clouds in the distance. Getting to the top of a hill means I am privileged to have a set of lungs and two legs that can take me there. Every time my lungs fill with air, I am grateful for another day and the opportunity to do something that makes me feel purposeful, fulfilled, and alive.
“I’m a part of it, not apart from it”
We are all connected. The actions of one affect many. Our races are canceled, but our integrity as runners is not. Running alone during this time gives me a chance to reflect on my privilege as a runner, and how my presence in the outdoors is a reflection of that privilege. I run through residential neighborhoods, office parks, and on trails without fear of being targeted because of the color of my skin. I have access to healthcare and healthy food. I have choices. I have the privilege of working from home and being able to find meaning and purpose in difficult times. Running helps me process simultaneous gratitude and rage that I feel for those who do not share these same privileges, and who are viewed and treated differently. I sit with these feelings and realize it’s up to me to elevate the voices of community members who suffer as a result of white privilege. I humble myself to listen and understand the experiences of other runners, especially historically underrepresented voices and advocate for them to be lifted up and heard. It’s not enough to say I’ll be an advocate and an ally without action, so I pledge my money and time, both now and in the future, to causes that advance restorative justice. Our running community is only as strong as the voices in it, and I will do my part to foster inclusivity, belonging, and empathy in all spaces, especially out on the trail.