“Why Do You Run?”

“Do you actually like to run?” “Why do you do it?” “What do you think about when you are running?” “Isn’t it boring?” “Don’t you just want to stop?”These are a few questions that members of the Pomona-Pitzer Cross-Country team face when friends and fellow students find out that they spend every afternoon and weekend morning running. Some show astonishment and admiration, but most are just confused. Why would one dedicate so much of her life to such a monotonous and often painful and uncomfortable pursuit? How can these student-athletes derive pleasure from pounding their legs mile after mile?The easiest answer to give when faced with these questions is a simple, “I don’t know, I just do it.” Runners do not give this imprecise answer because they do not know why they like to run. Rather, it is because it is hard to pinpoint the exact reason. If asked to share their thoughts on their motivations and drives, every runner would probably provide a different answer, and often their answers will change depending on the time of day or type of run.Long steady runs are different from hard-interval workouts on the track, and races are different from short recovery runs. For someone who embraces the whole cross-country attitude, all are valuable and appreciated in some way. As Rose Haag PO ’10 points out, “To race well you have to lay it all out and give everything you’ve got. To train well you have to just put on your shoes and go for a run again and again and again. For me, becoming good at both these things is really about learning to conquer my mind.”Kayla Eland PI ’12 shares Haag’s passion for the individual aspects that make up a cross-country training regiment.“I love long runs, where time becomes something immeasurable; it melts away and the bliss from running consumes you as you glide over the trail,” Eland said. “I love hard workouts, 1000-meter tempo and ten-minute tempo are my favorites, I love feeling exhausted because the exhaustion is only temporary, followed by the runner’s high and an energy I can’t find from anything else. I love racing because it makes me nervous, excited, and calm all at the same time. I love running because I like to challenge myself and I like the adrenalin. I love running because it relieves all stress, clears my head, and simply makes me happy.”Some runners thrive in the self-competitive side of racing and are driven to success by comparing past times and statistics with future goals. Other runners respond more to the competition of others and feed off the strength of their opponents.To Alicia Freese PO ’10 running and racing is not about the times as much as the competition. To her, running provides a unique competitive experience that elicits both a competitive drive and a lasting respect for her competitors. “Part of the allure of running is certainly the exhilaration of indulging my competitive streak,” Freese said. “I find it impossible not to love my adversaries and revel in our shared exhilaration. This paradox is understandable given that the essence of the challenge of running is not in the triumph over others but in the testing of personal potential and limitation.”To some, the motivation to get out and run hard every day comes from the satisfaction of finishing a run. Hannah McConnell PO ’12 likes the contrast between running and her other daily activities. “I feel so much more motivated to do everything else in my day after running, especially after a hard workout,” McConnell said. “After pushing myself physically and mentally during a run, all of my other daily activities feel a lot easier.”As for the run itself, cross-country harriers are often questioned as to what they think about during runs and whether they get bored. The P-P runners respond to this by pointing towards the therapeutic and calming effects of the repetitive act. “Running gives you a chance to reflect, relieve stress, or just forget about everything else and only focus on moving your legs and breathing,” said Naomi Wagner PO ’13.Freese said that she finds enjoyment in the simplistic nature of the act. “Some people view running as an opportunity to contemplate life’s big questions and perhaps indulge in some philosophical musings,” she said. “Myself, I prefer to dwell on something mundane in repetition. Sort-of like a mantra. So, for example, I may think about bunny rabbits for a solid twenty minutes.”While running is often viewed as a solitary sport, teammates bond over their passion for running. The sport may be an individual pursuit, but the nature of cross-country races and team workouts relies on the combined strengths of the individuals to reach for a communal goal. Wagner points to this team aspect as one of the reasons she values cross-country. “Having a team to run with makes running more enjoyable, makes challenges seem surmountable, and allows you to create team goals as well as individual goals,” she said.The reality, though, is that the different runners value running in different ways. Not all runners are always excited about the prospect of a hilly ten-mile course or a hard interval session on the track. Instead of considering the difficulty, runners see the value that these challenges present in advancing them toward their goal.One runner on the women’s team cites John L. Parker, Jr.’s classic novel, Once a Runner, to help describe her passion for the sport. “Running, to [the author], was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew,” she said. “It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.”

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