Running in the right direction, with purpose

Resumed running marathons to relieve stress, but now running toward a goal

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Running in the right direction, with purpose




Thomas Fitzgerald, Staff Writer

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Humans are made to run. We have developed over the course of our specie’s existence an anatomical structure that allows us to go, relatively slowly, for a long time. In the times of primarily hunter and gatherer societies, this allowed us to wear down prey, chasing them until they were tired and easy to kill.

We used our other anatomical gifts, our weirdly large and cell-dense brains, to create tools that make it easier to hunt. Why run super far for a long time when I could use physics to bend this stick and tie a string to it, applying the force of the tensioned string to launch a sharp stick into a gazelle? Actually, why even do that when I could control a small explosion of flammable powder behind a metal ball in a long tube, throwing that ball even farther and faster than the sharp stick, killing the gazelle even more easily? Why run after the gazelle when I can drive my Jeep on this safari? However, for some reason, people still run.

It’s a primal urge, or a hobby, or a box to check off the “healthy lifestyle” list, perhaps something different for every person who would call themselves a runner.

I call myself a runner because I can’t stop doing it. It’s not just about the obvious health benefits, which I’m not qualified to explain, and are thoroughly documented in readily available venues in this age of information. For me, running is an addiction.   

I was raised a runner, by runner parents, and kept it up all through middle and high school, but drifted away from the sport for a few years in college. Turns out running with a hangover is super hard, and when your budgeting priorities fill your fridge with mostly beer and your pantry with nothing but rice and beans, regular running makes for a hungry and very skinny college junior.

I didn’t rediscover running until a couple years ago, when I went jogging with a friend and realized I couldn’t make it 4 miles without stopping twice to rest.

This lack of endurance irked me, so I resolved to fix it. I idly mentioned to my friend that I’d like to run a marathon eventually, and he laughed at me, in a mean way I’d like to point out.

A year later, I ran my first marathon in Duluth. In November 2018, I ran my second marathon here in Madison, shaving 21 minutes off my time. I’m back in, and I’m hooked. So far, I haven’t become the kind of person who puts “26.2” stickers on my car, but I will admit that I have called half marathoners quitters, and I often catch myself bringing up marathons unprompted. How do you know if someone has run a marathon? They’ll tell you.

When I was training for the first marathon, I was going through a period of deep dissatisfaction with my career. I was a substitute teacher, and had been discovering how unhappy it made me. With a Bachelor’s in Education, around five years of experience, I feel qualified to say that kids aren’t that great, OK?

Right now, I diagnose and repair fitness equipment for a living, and the beautiful thing about machines is that you can figure out what’s wrong with them, and then fix it. Teaching isn’t like that. It’s difficult, intensely stressful, and the pay is bad.

I found an escape in running, a release valve on the pressure of the day. While training, I felt that if I could prove to myself that I could do this one thing, I could have something to be happy about, to take pride in, since I didn’t feel that way about my career. The race was in the summer, and by the spring, I had quit teaching and begun taking classes to earn a degree in engineering. Running changed for me then. Instead of an outlet, an escape, it became a purpose in and of itself.

My first marathon, I was running away. Now, I am running toward something. I don’t know if I’ll get there, but I won’t stop running in the right direction.

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