Hundreds of runners pumped their fists, half smiling as worn rubber soles carried them over the last steps through the finish line. They had made it. Their dedication to every mile, every physical therapy exercise, or sore legs had led them to this moment. If not for their commitment to the race, to the sport, and feeling of the breathes that followed when the legs slowed down, the finish line would not have come.
As the laughter subsided and the plates were cleared, one of the Young Life leaders started our devotional before club. She mentioned how we were all tired and stressed. I thought about how my days had been lately, speed walking from class to class, driving to and from interviews, fitting homework in between the highlighted boxes on my schedule when I had things planned. She wondered what we needed to take out in order to feel more at peace. Mine was opposite. I needed to add things in.
I remember my first 5k, the picture I’d seen in a scrapbook engraved in my memory. It captured my sprint to the finish in a white tennis t-shirt, red shorts, and a bob haircut soaked with sweat and streaming behind me. (How did I not think to put it into a ponytail?)
High school running was consistent. The whistle blew but I didn’t move until I saw my teammate stride forward beside me. I spent four years preparing, my toes on the line. Four years of early morning practices to beat the summer heat, long runs on Saturdays and speed workouts in the rolling hills of our home course, races where our feet swept up autumn colors behind us. After a few weeks off, winter meant warms up on the indoor track, logging miles as we tried to gain traction on unsalted sidewalks, and ab workouts on the gym floor.
But now in college, I get to choose. I can go for a run with friends or by myself, swim if I have enough time, go to the gym and watch Netflix while I’m using the machines, or stay in my room and take a yoga class from YouTube. Or do nothing, and the extra hour is spent studying or spending time with friends.
Now, running and exercise in general has become my stress reliever. It’s easy to put off. To see the snow falling out the window and decide it’s too cold. To feel the exhaustion weigh on your eyelids at the end of a long day. We have the time, it’s just a matter of making it happen. Working at camp this past summer, my friends and I would squeeze in runs on our breaks or in the morning before our weekend adventures. Whenever I am home, I still take to the trails with my mom, who I am thankful introduced me to the sport. I am continually inspired by my brother and dad’s perseverance in each marathon they complete. A conversation with my dad reminded me how important this was. That the rhythm of my breath and the consistency of moving forward helped my stress dissolve. When I finished a run or working out, I could return to the problem with a clear mind and the patience to find a solution. Yes, exercise takes commitment, but for me it is worth the relief.
What helps you to relax? Talking with a friend? Journaling? Reading your Bible? All of these things (and as always, Jesus) help me to find peace. But in this season of life, I am blessed running has given me peace in this way. This is why I run.