We are most true to ourselves when we’re young. As children, we’re transparent, uninhibited.
We are honest about how we feel. Love, joy, and sadness are expressed in the moment we notice them. Forgiveness is easy. Life is simple.
The emotion that changes everything is fear. Angry words, unfortunate events and misguided people crash into our lives, and we’re never the same.
At first, we’re simply unsettled by it, because being afraid feels so different in the innocence of our childhood. Then fear comes again, and we begin to make choices. Will we fight, or will we flee?
Flee, and life becomes a lengthy retreat.
When I first started, I didn’t know that running would become a means of fighting back, but it did. I would go through an unsettled day, and then rid myself of the fear as I struggled through a workout. At times, it seemed like I was fighting the world. And when each workout ended, I felt a sense of release.
But fear is persistent. Things like confrontation, uncertainty and failure terrified me.
Racing became my battleground. Once, in my senior year of high school, I cursed out loud as I strained to chase down the leader. I don’t know where the anger came from, but it made me tenacious on that particular day. I still finished second, but with a new understanding of my own capability. I could be strong even against unlikely odds.
There were races when my apprehension was the hardest opponent. Sometimes I crumbled in the face of it, but I always learned something from the struggle.
I learned that I can control my thinking and my actions, no matter what might be raging around me. I’ve crested the hills that make some people turn around, and then I kept running, leaving those hills behind me.
After being afraid and still moving forward so many times, I’ve found that nothing is as scary as I think it might be. My fear has been more restricting than any other foe.
Learning that changed my life.
Running taught me more. I learned that all success requires that same simple principles. Discipline, determination and work ethic will take you far, no matter what goals you’re chasing. Accountability puts you in control of yourself and makes circumstance less impactful.
Running taught me that sustainability requires patience and contentment demands humility.
Now these lessons are rooted in my person, so much so that situational responses have become reflex. Life is getting easier.
Most of things from my childhood are gone, never to be recreated. For the longest time, that made me sad. But now I understand that what I loved about being a boy wasn’t in things.
I loved waking up on an unplanned day, with nothing more than open space to fill the time. I loved finding a crayfish in the stream down the street, and chasing it into a jar so I could take a closer look.
I loved the freedom of running through my neighbors’ yards.
Sometimes, it feels like my life is following a looping path, bringing me back to find the peace I’ve only felt in my earliest days. Back then, I found joy in nothing more than fresh air and green grass.
I’m beginning to feel that peace again on my isolated runs. I even feel it in the fatigue after I’m finished, but there’s a hard truth to be understood.
Fear is real. Only through our struggle will it begin to disappear, allowing us to gain some clarity about this world and about ourselves. And, only then can we find whatever it is we’re looking for.
And that, after all, is why we run.