Recently, a decade after an ACL tear and a related slope into weight gain, I’ve started running again. A few weeks ago, I ran a 5K. I was thrilled to run a time that my high school self would have scoffed at. But I was thrilled nonetheless. See, I was a crazy-motivated runner in high school, and I ran my first year of college before I stepped down. I was so passionate about running that it threatened to consume me. I stepped down to save some passion to pursue other interests.
But here’s what I love about running. Running is an individual struggle against one’s greatest challenger: oneself. The best feeling when running a race isn’t necessarily winning a medal—but beating one’s previous achievement, a “personal best.” Indeed, the race I remember best from high school wasn’t a race I medaled in; it was a race during which I ran a personal best and broke a school record.
Some people are perplexed by runners. By definition, if you run a personal best during a given race, you are pushing harder than you’ve ever pushed before. This means the race is going to hurt. The whole time.
So why on earth would anyone willingly run a race? Why subject oneself to thirty minutes (or more) of pure physical exertion?
Here’s the answer I love: because we can.
We are human. Our time is limited. We’re given muscles and brains and lungs and bodies more complicated than anything we’ve ever built. And we’re given the free will to see what we can do with them. To test our limits. To be able to leave some type of legacy that reminds others that we were here.
Running that 5K, I saw overweight people pushing themselves to their limits. I saw elderly veterans pushing themselves through the cold downpour. I saw thousands of people awake early on a cold, rainy Saturday morning, all excited to push themselves. We finished the race soaked to the bone, and we were all thrilled. Right after I wrote this post, I read this inspiring story of a woman who lost 200 pounds and then ran a 10K. When she got sick at the end, one of the police officers helping to patrol the race helped her cross the finish line. There’s just something about the human spirit not wanting to give up that helps unite us across all kinds of lines.
Our time is limited, but as the poet Dylan Thomas urges us, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Don’t wait until the prospect or threat of death enters your horizon. Live now. Go for a run. Build something. Read a book. Heck, write a book. Call someone you love. Put down your phone. Think.
I love running 5Ks because the runners gathered hail from all walks of life and all fitness levels. But they are all united in their passion. They are here, they are determined, they are given this day, and they are going to run.
Because they’re human. And because they can.
And that’s as good a reason as there ever was.