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art theplaceIt is the single most essential thing in my life.

Running. The action of putting on jogging shorts, a comfortable t-shirt, lacing up your shoes and heading out the front door for the open road. It is oxygen for my soul, lighting in a bottle for my heart, and sanity for my brain.

 

At age 30, I’ve been a runner now for 18 years. It is the one thing that I cannot live without in my existence. And to think, when I was 12 years old, it was the last thing I ever wanted to do. When I entered middle school, I wanted to play soccer. But my father, a Red Forman-esque (That ‘70s Show) character, and a lifelong runner, had other plans. 

“You’re going to run cross-country,” he stated. From a man who had run over 80 marathons (with 14 finishes at Boston) and thousands of road races, he was a physically intimidating force back in the day. Thus, I didn’t question his decision.

And that … was that. I became a runner. At first, I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. All I knew was I wanted to hang towards the front of the pack in practice and in races. I also wanted to win. I really didn’t care about metals or accolades. I just didn’t want someone to beat me. I wanted to be the fastest one on the course. That attitude won me many meets in middle school, and also propelled me to be on varsity track that spring as a seventh-grader. 

All that success at such a young age really took a toll as the years went along. Middle school became high school. Regular season meets became state championship meets. Winning became the priority for my teammates and I. Although I truly loved being a runner and playing sports, the pressure and anxiety started to build. Granted, I would always run to my best ability, no matter what, but what remained was utter psychological hell leading up to stepping on the starting line. 

Even to this day, and I think most competitive runners can agree, when I attend a track meet or cross-country race, there’s this queasy feeling in my gut that immediately transports me back to my old race days. With that said, all of us runners thrived on that feeling, on those days when we knew we had what it took break a school record, to prove our athletic worth, to win.

But, as I was headlong into my collegiate running endeavors, it finally struck me — running was becoming a chore. Something I deeply loved was now becoming more of an obligation than a release with two-a-day practices amid the haphazard schedule of a double major. So, towards the end of my junior year at Quinnipiac University, I walked away from the team. It was the first time in almost a decade I wasn’t running competitively.

And, with that, my love affair with running was rekindled. I was running for me now, and only me. I was running to escape the trials and tribulations of daily life. I was running to make peace with heartbreak, disappointment or career frustration. I was running to soak in a majestic prairie sunset, smell the salty sea breeze or tackle a joyously muddy mountain trail after a baptismal rainstorm.

As I’ve pushed further into this crazy profession called journalism, running has always been my one anchor, providing me with stability and a sense of reality when everything else seems to be going off the rails. It is the one part of my day where I’m nowhere near my smart phone or laptop, where I listen acutely to everything around me, all the while pondering the mysteries of the world with a grin from ear-to-ear that only comes from someone who is in tune to the cosmos with each passing stride. 

It’s only been recently that I’ve started to run races again. Obviously, I’m not “in it to win it” anymore. But then again, I’ve already won, in essence, because running will always be a part of my life. It didn’t disappear after college or once your day-to-day reality becomes consumed with work and other priorities, like it does for so many of us. It has remained, even throughout all of those times I dreaded the weather outside or was nursing a hangover and had to convince myself to go run, that after a mile or so, you’d find that ideal rhythm.

Today (April 20) was Patriots’ Day, with the 119th running of the Boston Marathon this morning. Though in recent years this immortal race conjures tragic memories, it will always be the most important day in the running world, and also one of the days that perfectly showcases the beauty of what humanity is capable of, as a species and as a vital piece in the puzzle of the universe.

In celebration of the Boston Marathon, I went for a long sunset run around downtown Waynesville this evening. I had planned on doing four miles, but was so lost in my thoughts and pure enjoyment that, before I knew it, I had run almost seven. My body moved like clockwork, where your physical and emotional intent becomes one in the same, with each mile ticking away, leaving you wanting another.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

Editor’s Note: The inaugural Gateway To The Smokies Half Marathon will be start at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, May 2, in downtown Waynesville and end in Frog Level. For more information or to register for the race, click on www.smokieshalfmarathon.com

 

Hot picks

1 The Strand at 38 Main (Waynesville) will have Soldier’s Heart (Americana/soul) April 25 and Mangas Colorado (Americana/bluegrass) April 30. Both shows are at 7:45 p.m.

2 Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be held at 7:30 p.m. April 24-25 and May 1-2, 8-9, and at 3 p.m. May 3 and 10 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.

3 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will have The Dirty Soul Revival (blues/hard rock) at 9 p.m. April 24.

4 The Western North Carolina AIDS Project’s 13th annual Dining Out for Life benefit will take place on April 30 in surrounding communities.

5 Western Carolina University (Cullowhee) will have the Gamelan Ensemble at 7:30 p.m. April 22 in the Coulter Building.

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