2024 eclipse timelapse by Ashley Lian

Chasing Catharsis

I discovered my hatred for running in high school. The only times I ran were when it was required of me as part of my waterpolo training. I disliked it for the same reason I loathed long distance swimming: it was boring, and it was hard. Mile after mile of slow, unending monotony. And I hated that my teammates were better than me at it. And I hated that I couldn't get better.

In any event, this seed of abhoration was planted firmly in my gut as I entered my twenties. I rarely ran, and if I ever did it was because I delluded myself into believing I would somehow come out better on the other side. Worst of all, I was convinced that the only way to run was to push myself to my limit, if I wasn't gasping and feeling nauseous, then the attempt was worthless.

To my surprise and fortune, in the late spring of 2023 I became aware of the ultramarathon runner Andrew Glaze. I had frequently stumbled across ultrarunners on social media and was fascinated by their skill. I wanted to know what drove these people to push themselves so hard, to the absolute limit of the human body. I didn't see myself as the type to push myself to the point of electrolyte imbalance or incontinence, but I wanted to see what I could do. In the same philosophy as my reading journey, I started slow with simple goals. No reason to try and run ten miles on my first day. I was shocked to see that Andy Glaze would run 12-13 minute mile paces even on his short (haha) 7 mile jaunts. I didn't realize you were allowed to do that, I thought running meant holding down the throttle to the max no matter what. After 2 months, I have run over 100 miles and I don't see an end in sight.

Running for me now acts as a moment of focused reprieve. I don't listen to any music or podcasts, just me, my breathing, and my thoughts. I recognized that throughout the day I am constantly surrounded by noise. When I wake up I listen to the news, when I work I plug in to a stream or music, on my commute I bury myself in a book. Running gives me 30-120 minutes of time to myself. I can process my stressors from the day, think about my future, my past, or nothing at all, all while being unable to distract myself. I can't pull out my phone or talk to anyone or eat a snack or complete anything on my to do list. I can only run.

It's been almost a year now since I started my running journey. I've run hundreds of miles. A 7 mile run sounds like a casual Saturday to me now. 4 miles is a nice recovery day. I cannot believe how rapidly my mind and body have acclimated to this new lifestyle. A year ago I never would have imagined I could ever run two dozen miles a week, let alone look forward to such a week, and feel empty if I run any less. Allowing myself a moment of reflection at this one year mark, there are three techniques I have identified that have helped me become a successful runner. First is I run slow. This is perhaps the technique that will make all "purists" roll their eyes (one thing I've learned about any online activity-oriented communities is they gatekeep viciously and will just as soon rip you to shreds if you don't live up to their own twisted standards). I run slow because it feels good. I run as a way to escape the noise of the day, and to see interesting and beautiful things while spending time outside away from a screen. Any health benefit or improvement in race times is entirely coincidental, an unintended side effect. The second technique is a variant of the first (and is sure to make the purists' faces blot red and purple with rage): I walk when I want to. It makes a long run easier, it feels good to be able to stop for a bit and shake out the legs and stretch the hips. I hate running that hurts, so I very simply don't do that. I can smell the hatred oozing from the unenlightened: "walking is cheating!" "It doesn't count if you walk!" Cheating what? Doesn't count to who? Who cares? Truthfully, it's saddening to me to know that there are some people that care so deeply about dictating that running must equate to suffering and that without it, it's not worth it. Such a shame. This brings me to my last technique: I surround myself with people I want to be like. Social media provides every one of us with an opportunity to construct our own communities. All too often those constructs are incredibly fickle and toxic, a superficial window into manufactured lives of wannabe rich and famous small-fries. I hate what social media has done to me in the past, how it has warped my view on things and twisted my goals and aspriation to point away from what truly matters and instead towards the mound of excrement that is status and greed. But thank god there are tools present within the constant streams of data that allow us to currate the noise. I now use these to force my feeds to be exciting and inspirational. People doing things because they love to do it. People who I am not envious of but excited to join on their adventures. People whose minds work in such unimaginably beautiful ways that just being in their presence makes me feel alive. I encourage all to do this, its one of the few readily available saving-graces of the modern age. Make use of it.

In any event, I will report back on my running progress some other time. I will be running a half marathon in April. I could care less about my time, I am overwhelmed by the anticipation of being around so many people who just love to be outside.