Running is a lot like writing. For people who don’t do much of either, that first sentence has probably already sent them fast-walking to the exit. But I’d probably make it to the door faster, and I’d tell them to hear me out.
Running is already a part of your existence — every time you put a bounce in your step, every time you go after the ball and every time you rush down a flight of stairs because your Uber is about to leave. There is no threshold to call yourself a runner, no required number of 5Ks or no mandatory amount of joy you’re supposed to feel from lacing up a pair of sneakers. In fact, even after a marathon, a half-marathon and more 5Ks than I can count, I still dread it sometimes.
It’s the same sort of dread I get when I’m staring at a blank page. Writing is similarly integrated into daily life and yet so difficult to find motivation for. It’s so easy to send your friend a novel about what they missed last night. You already pride yourself in crafting perfectly worded emails for missing class and finding puns for your Instagram captions. You are a writer; it’s just that essays and stories and scripts are arduous and exhausting.
What I’ve found, though, is that grueling efforts are often the most rewarding. It’s why I haven’t been able to stop running or writing all of these years.
I started running on a total whim. When I was in fifth grade, my stepdad made a well-intentioned New Year’s resolution to get fit and start running. My mom signed him up for his first race, a little neighborhood five-mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. When the day came, my stepdad was a nervous wreck. He was worried about being too slow or not being able to finish or getting horrendously injured mid-race. I think it was all the neon spandex leggings and slim-fitting athletic jackets that really got to him, though. My stepdad’s confidence was crumbling, and my mom was getting frustrated, so I piped up and asked if he would do it if I ran with him.
Now, let me put this in perspective. I was a short and stick-like 11-year-old. I had asthma that was bad enough to send me to the hospital. I figure-skated, but my program at the time was less than two minutes long. I had volunteered to run a five-mile race when I was wearing jeans and a sweater, and I hadn’t even run the mile that year in P.E. because my class had negotiated a deal with our new P.E. teacher.
My stepdad said he was game if I was. So we lined up with about 1,000 other crazy people on Thanksgiving morning and set off running. I lost him after the first mile. The thing that kept me going, though, was the running community. Experienced runners would offer encouragement and praise as they passed. Spectators cheered and held signs, and the houses along the race route blasted music from their speakers. I raced some other little kids for a block or two. It was like a big party.
Around mile four, the excitement started to wear off. I had the worst cramp in my side, and breathing in the cold air started to hurt. I walked for a little bit and had an inner fight with my stomach to keep my breakfast down. One lady with a dog saw me struggling and told me to run with her to the finish line. She wouldn’t let me give up. We were almost there. So I scraped up whatever energy I had left and followed her. By the time I crossed under the arch of balloons at the finish line, I had never been so happy. Runner’s high is a real thing, and I rode it for the rest of the day as I shoveled copious amounts of mashed potatoes into my mouth.
That incredible feeling is something I hope to share with people through this column. I’ll be writing about this sport and community that’s really more of a lifestyle in the hopes that you’ll get out there and try it for yourself. You just have to approach it the same way you approach writing: Just do it.
Meghan Coyle is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Chasing Pavements,” runs Tuesdays.