I’ve seen runners frequently say “miles change you.” It is a popular hashtag on Instagram. I think I have seen it written on running shirts. It is one of those running sayings that may be cliché, but only because it is so true. The person who I was nearly six years ago when I ran my first half marathon is much different than the person I am now.
I was thinking about this the other week during a conversation with Bruno. We were talking about books that made us better people. I told Bruno I did not think that books always necessarily made us better (a Rousseau scholar at heart always), but that people and the people who introduce us to the books are more influential. Somehow, though, I said, “But you know the biggest thing I think has made me better in the last several years is running.”
Sure, there’s the obvious things like discipline, sticking with goals, pushing through pain, etc. that running teaches everyone. But I think running has given me some different more specific lessons.
Not that long ago, my biggest ambitions in life were a desire to own a Mercedes-Benz and a pair of Christian Louboutin’s. I’m not kidding. I thought those things would show, “I’ve made it. I’m successful.” People. I am getting my Ph.D. in political philosophy, not a career choice known for being lucrative. I do not even like to drive! The point is I was very superficial. Success was wear you vacationed, what you wore, how cool of a place you lived, how much you made. In high school, I tore out pictures of advertisements from Vogue magazine and hung them on my walls, because that was the pinnacle for me. Before we started dating, my husband gave me a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament for my husband because I wanted that damn car, even if it meant earning it one piece at a time.
I think that hood ornament will be the only piece of a Mercedes-Benz I ever own and I’m not sure what use I would ever have for Christian Louboutins. I have not subscribed to Vogue in years. I am not sure when I stopped caring, but I think I know how it happened. I just became interested in different things and it started with running.
It is one of those domino-effect interests, right? I discovered Scott Jurek, reading Eat and Run, six years ago. I started listening to trail running podcasts. And even though it took me until this year to finally run a trail race (I was a super fan all those years), I think I soaked the culture in. Not just the running, but the way the runners talked about their lives. It was kind of a different way of viewing “success”. It was not about how much money you made or what you owned, but how you lived. I felt inspired by listening to these people talking about being outdoors and, for some of them, living a simpler kind of life. And sure, I’m romanticizing, but I think I became much more interested in adventure. And while I know that message has been presented to me many times before, for whatever reason it stuck more through osmosis.
My interests became more doing than getting. An interest in trail running led to an interest in camping. I now google things like, “How young is too young to take a baby camping?” I took a wilderness survival course, because why the hell not? Years ago you could not get me to go outside (unless you couldn’t smoke inside, of course, I’m not a barbarian), but the other day I ran outside in 10 degree weather and liked it. I don’t want new fancy shoes, but I recently told Bruno that if we are still in Michigan in the future, I would really like to try a snow shoe race.
I think running changed all that for me. Miles changed me in an interesting way. When you feel the satisfaction of a Sunday or Saturday (or both, you wild, crazy, wonderful ultra people), you find you do not need much more than that — well, maybe a post-run cup of coffee and cinnamon roll. But I really do not think there is a better feeling than running a race, looking at my surroundings, and feeling awe even though I’m hurting and feel like hell.
I’m grateful running helped me become this person, a better person.