Thank you to the eight members who submitted entries to our “Why I Run” essay contest. Our judges enjoyed reading all of these and wish to convey their appreciation for the honesty each showed.
Here are the entries for which I’ve received permission to post:
Linda Ewing, first prize
I run because someone I once had a crush on did. I run because I can’t jump or kick or hit or catch a ball, but I can put one foot in front of the other and stay upright (most of the time). I run because the struggle uphill makes my heart beat faster, and so does the view from on high, and so does the wild flight down.
I run because, when my first running partner was dying of cancer, each slap of foot against pavement at sunrise sounded like “life.”
I run because the tribe of runners recognizes and welcomes me whether I’m in Detroit or Brooklyn or Brussels or Barcelona. I run because doing metric-to-English conversions and base 60 math is good mental exercise. I run because it’s humbling and because it gives me something to brag about. I run because strangers rarely shout words of encouragement when I’m driving.
I run because doing hard repeats on the track prepared me for the hard repeats of my own chemo summer.
I run because I can still strip down to my sports bra and run lopsided and feel like an Amazon. I run because Gerry and Laura and Julie and Randie and Dana and Elizabeth and Allison and Pamela (and why does this goddamn list keep growing?) can’t.
I also run because finding the perfect recovery meal calls for extensive research, and after testing tamales with watermelon agua fresca, bowls of pho with avocado milkshakes, grilled sturgeon with kvass, doubles with sorrel, not to mention dozens of bagels, bunches of bananas, and way too many gallons of Gatorade, I owe it to science to keep experimenting. I run because here in Brooklyn, ten miles on a Saturday morning can take me from fecund brownstone streets, to the sidelines of a soccer match, past Bengali auto mechanics working and old Russian couples sitting on benches in the sun – so many stories in the sweaty city! – before ending at the Atlantic Ocean.
I run because the world is too big, and our time here too short, not to pick up the pace. And because, if I listen closely, each slap of foot against pavement still sounds like “life.”
Chaya Wolf, second prize
Every morning when the sun rises, it brings with it a day full of things we need to do, places we need to go, and people we need to meet. We must catch the next train, make the next light, close the next deal and call our best friend. We run, all day, every day. We run from the beauty of life and the freedom of time. We’re always trying to get ahead and move forward. We run from life and forget to enjoy the gift of today.
And then one day about 2 years ago I learned that it’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to stop, look and enjoy. I also realized that in order to love life we need to stop running from it and run in it.
When I started running (not from life), it was for a local charity. I raised money for a global organization that helps children with special needs experience love, life and friendship. I realized that I have what they don’t; the freedom to live, carefree, healthy and relaxed. That’s when I decided that it is important to relish in the gift of life and be grateful for the opportunities that come our way. We should stop and look at what the world has to offer.
So these days when I run, I don’t run away from life, I run in it. I run for sanity, for health, for pleasure, for air, for fun. I run because I can. I run to see beauty and enjoy freedom.
There are actually three reasons why I run.
- I worked in a mental health clinic in Canarsie. We used to play basketball or paddle ball at lunchtime. Regina Cahill also worked there and was known for running to Kings Plaza on her lunch hour. One day I found myself without basketball or paddle ball partners and asked if I could go on a short run with her. I was grateful she allowed me to. After a few runs I was hooked, I was shocked to find I was running 8 minute miles! Several months later I ran my first race a 5 mile race in the Park, The Gloria Vanderbilt Valentines Day Race. Regina introduced me to Harry Murphy and Kurt Steiner. I was running the Summer Speed Series; one week in Prospect Park and the next in Clove Lake. By the end of the Summer I found myself training with PPTC for my first marathon. I loved seeing how much I could improve my running.
- Second, I found myself loving the competition and the camaraderie of fellow runners: male, female, young & old. Running had changed my life; I found a whole new set of friends, who became more like family over time.
- Third, I found myself being very punctual and for the most part early for races. I began working registration and discovered the joy of giving back to the sport that had given me so much, a lifestyle of health, fitness, good friends, who all spoke the same language. After I turned 40 I knew my best race times were behind me. I had ran a 17:39 5K, 29:29 5 miler and a 3:04 marathon, and I was grateful for these accomplishments. I remain competitive to this day. I can only race walk due to bone spurs in my knees, but as soon as I place that racing bib on I pick out my competition in a race early on and go after them with measured abandon. Running has always been a gift and a blessing in my and remains so.
I run because I can.
I run because I actually like to run. I run because it is who I am. Running is and has always been a huge part of my life. To know me is to know I run.
I started running when I was 12 years old. I’d run with my Dad on family vacations and at my hometown 4th of July 10k race. Running is entertainment. It’s what I do to stay fit, to release stress, to think, to socialize. Through running I have met my best and longest-lasting friends.
Running bonds and unites people. As a running partner, you really get to know someone at a deep level. Pounding out the miles over months to train for a marathon, you talk a lot and share a lot with that partner.
I’ve run with my partners through their breakups, hookups, cancer diagnosis, new job and job loss, moves and more. In rain or shine, fog or humidity, you persevere because any day is a good day when you run.
I’m a morning runner. I am never sorry I got myself up and out for a run, once I’m done. 50 marathons later and countless other races along the way, I still love to run. I feel my most beautiful after completing a marathon. Running is in my DNA.
I run because I can.
I run because my body can, even though my mind sometimes thinks it can’t. Each time I finish a run, I bask in the triumphant glow over that internal struggle that I have once again overcome. The only comparable experience in my life was the birth of my son, nearly six years ago. Laboring at home in my Brooklyn apartment, unmedicated, was a marathon I didn’t think I would ever finish. The pain seemed bottomless and interminable. But I literally and figuratively pushed through, proving to myself that I had the inner strength and capacity to accomplish goals I had previously considered unattainable–like running a half marathon. Now, when I’m out, pounding the pavement in the park, I have a deep store of resilience and endurance to readily tap into. Running keeps me close to my potential and my inner strength. Running makes me feel good about myself. Running gives me something that nobody can ever take away from me. That’s why I run.
Why indeed. No one else in my family is or was a runner; it was never a popular activity among most of my friends (“I’ll only run if someone scary is chasing me”). So when the opportunity to actually run the NYC Marathon presented itself, seven and a half years ago, (barely) preparing for it began as a very solitary pursuit. But why did I think I could run a marathon and why was it so important to try? Why run at all?
In the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus suggests that we should see this symbolic embodiment of endless, futile struggle a different way: as present, engaged and even happy in the midst of his effort. Maybe Camus’ perspective says something about how running – for some a painful drudgery – can provide others such relief — a joyful escape, in the midst of trudging along to nowhere in particular. We often hear how much running is a psychological challenge. Starting another difficult race (or even a simple run) is a little like returning to the bottom of that steep hill and putting one’s shoulder to that bolder, yet again. There is a fleeting exultation when we reach the top, but the secret – what compels us to the starting line – is largely in our acceptance of the act itself. And in how we experience the world while engaged in that effort.
Asking why we do something implies agency – or some choice in how we decide to approach the unavoidable. By choosing to run and race, we create and enact a distilled version of the condition of life itself. And we experience it with a certain joy because in those minutes or hours of exertion, we are more alive to and connected with the beauty that surrounds us in the present — because, or in spite of, the possible absurdity and futility of this or any effort.
There is almost nothing as simple, as literally pedestrian, as repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other. And yet in that effort, and sometimes suffering, there is the peace of stillness in motion. And, simultaneously, a joy in the animal outlet of acting, rather than waiting and wondering, suspended between possible choices and outcomes. The myriad decisions and distractions of life collapse down to the freedom of movement and the grace that comes with simple effort. (Or maybe it is all neurochemistry?)