As a naval officer, I'm required to take a year long course called JPME (Joint Professional Military Education) which encourages me to explore and write about topics pertaining to U.S. National Security. I am in the intro course at the moment which is a few weeks of writing development. Our first assignment is to write an "I Believe" piece, so here it is!
I have a lot of gratitude for the hominid who, 4.4 million years ago, decided to stand up on two legs. I wonder what she did it for. To bring home delicious blackberries? To rescue a child from danger? To peer over tall grass for nearby predators? I may never know, but I like to think that whatever need caused the rise, an excited sprint followed shortly thereafter. I believe in running. It is an activity that has brought me profound moments of meaning and bliss.
My introduction to running was through soccer, which pushed me to give track and field a try. I ran the mile mostly because nobody else wanted to so it seemed like there was less competition. I didn’t have any early successes that would spur me to dedicate more time and energy to the sport but I kept at it. As I grew older, I started collecting a handful of euphoric experiences through running.
The first transcendent running experience I can recall was a late night jog through the posh Bel Air neighborhood that overlooks the Los Angeles skyline. The situation with my FIRST EVER GIRLFRIEND had turned sour, so I laced up some sneakers to get my mind off it. It worked. Something about puffing over the hill crest, surrounded by quietness and twinkling lights lessened the sting of rejection and made me realize that this was just another stumble in life to get up from. I jogged down from those hills shadow boxing the crisp evening air like Rocky Balboa through the streets of Philadelphia. I was ready for my next challenge.
The second experience I can recall came about four years later in a swamp outside Charleston, South Carolina. I had just started my career in the Navy and was struggling with the long hours and strict rules practiced at Nuclear Power School. I was solidly middle-of-the-pack and worried that perhaps I wasn’t built for the military. I was saved by another eight mile excursion in my sneakers. I didn’t need to be top of the class. I didn’t need to be Admiral Keegan from day one. I didn’t have to be perfect. I ran past the Waffle House next to my apartment prancing on my toes like a show pony, excited for the next day of training.
Through a strenuous ten years as a submarine officer and some soured relationships, I stuck close to running. I like the simplicity. It requires minimal gear and you can dial the intensity factor simply by adjusting speed or incline. I often turn to running during times of stress, but not always.
There were times where, as Forrest Gump said, “That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run.” While I haven’t run across the country, my runs have gotten longer. The Honolulu Marathon was my first 26.2 mile distance. The New York City Marathon was the second. Extending the distance further, last year I clocked my longest at 38.3 miles. I have yet to find an activity that provides the same feeling of contentment and accomplishment running gives.
Not every run is delightful. In fact, most are difficult. Some are dreadful. But I’m starting to understand that that’s precisely the point. I feel that these euphoric moments I’ve experienced when running actually give true and valuable meaning to my life. It’s almost like I exist for these moments and it’s impossible to predict when they will come! What’s important to understand is that they will never come unless I lace up, stand up, and step out.