With 2016 drawing to a close, I planned to write a year in review where I would wax poetic about my favorite gear (OrangeMud, Julbo Aero glasses, Hoka One One, CW-X, Newton, Snuggbudz), the highs (1st ever 100 miler – 4th Female and Sub 20 hour at Umstead, new PR and BQ at Chicago), the lows (post race depression, low motivation), and close out with a preview of 2017 (Boston Marathon, an IM 70.3, Javelina Jundred). As I put pen to paper, however, that was not what ached to be put into words. Instead, after the last few weeks or wonderful runs I completed to just RUN vice train, I found myself thinking how FREE I feel when I run and how that freedom is such a gift.
Thinking about what freedom means, I, like any good book nerd, pulled up the Oxford Dictionary definition of freedom which said freedom is:
- the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint:
- absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government
- the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved:
- the state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily:
- the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing):
- the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity.
- unrestricted use of something:
- familiarity or openness in speech or behavior.
These definitions, however, do no fully encapsulate freedom for me as it relates to my running and why I never feel as free as I do then when I run. Thucydides, an Athenian historian and general, wrote that the “secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is courage.” I find I need courage, strength, empathy and desire to run so this quote, on top of the dictionary’s definition of freedom, is almost the perfect way to capture what I call the “freedom of running.”
Running, to me, is a joy but it is not always enjoyable. I run because I love it. I run because it is a need in me. I run even when I don’t want to leave the house or have a ton of other things I “could” be doing. I run because it frees me. I struggle, I fly, I trick my brain, I find motivation in streams of sunlight breaking through trees, I trip, I fall, I bleed, and I smile. During times of no motivation, I find my joy and freedom in running comes from the utility of putting my feet forward to get me to and from my next destination.
More than the struggles, running awakens my spirit in a magical and beautiful way, and the longer the run or race the more my soul is cleansed and I transform into a better version of myself. At these moments, I am pushing my mind, body, and spirit far beyond what most consider to be “normal,” yet I see it as redefining my capability and limits. With every run and long distance race, I believe I am redefining my limits, and in essence, becoming limitless. That, in itself, is a freedom. Imagine a world where people stopped saying they couldn’t do something because they think its impossible for them. Imagine the confidence our youth would have if we said “YES, you CAN” instead of confining their ambitions or desires by highlighting obstacles or the way things are “normally.” That world would, in effect, be limitless. That is FREEDOM. Therefore, in addition to providing me with a venue for constantly reinventing myself, running frees me in so many other ways that I felt a compulsion to voice them.
- Running is freedom from my self-doubt, inadequacies, body-loathing, and anxiety. I know that no one is perfect and nor should we have to be. That, however, has never stopped me from comparing myself to others and thinking I needed to change (physically, emotionally, or at work). This was especially true when I was in my teens and twenties. Running is fierce, and at its core, is about THAT runner…no others. With running, I only want to compete and compare myself to ME. That is fierce and that is freedom.
- Running frees me from the clutter of my own mind and allows me to focus on issues and things that truly matter. I can break away from my overactive brain for those hours and simply be in the moment. I’ve mentioned the “Zen of Running” before in another post and I continue to find this to be true. I am never calmer and more at peace than I am after a run (and no, that is not exhaustion!).
- Running frees me from all of life’s negativity and despair. It is difficult to focus on all the crazy the world shoves at us via the news, TV and social media when you are 15 miles from home and enjoying (or sometimes not so much) the feeling of your muscled legs moving over roads, paths and trails longer than some people care to drive.
- Running is freedom because it gives me the power and strength to overcome the challenges in life. There will always be ups, downs, and frustrations in my life, but they shrink to manageable during and after a long run.
As an ultrarunner, I need to control a lot of things from my nutrition to my gear to my training plans, and I love the logistics involved in these endeavors. My personality enjoys controlling the things in life I can. All that being said, if running was all about control it is unlikely I would run and race as much as I do as to control my life too much would create a cage around my life. Alternatively, running opens up my life beyond control and frees me to live in a world where all preconceived notions of what is, and isn’t, possible disappear in the face of physical and mental challenges.