On running

last updated 2021-07-03

"Running is a celebration of life" Zaf Ahmed, my middle and highschool coach told us. Those words echo 18 years later on my long runs. And Zaf was right (I should tell him) - there is a purity in the physical act and mental state that together make running. I can't think of a better description than Zaf's: a celebration. I'm sure fellow runners will understand. There is quiet ecstasy lying in wait, and when it does you forget your legs, the strain, the heat and you can go forever.

I joined the cross country in fifth grade because of a crush (so perhaps I owe it all to Taylor Hannasch). I remember showing up at coach Zaf's office. He peered over his small, low-seated glasses at my broken down converse and told me I'd need some proper running shoes. I never was particularly good. The canonical 5k XC race is brutal. But I've stuck with it ever since that day with only a few pauses. And most recently, I've found new facets of running that have renewed my enthusiasm and enjoyment.

How I run

I stopped measuring my runs a few years ago. It's easy to become fixated on distance, time, and pace, especially with all the gizmos and apps that will tell you: hurry up! While some aspects of measurement were fun, it's great to know you're improving for example, I realized that too much data, especially real-time information, negatively impacted my enjoyment of running. First, I'd predetermine the distance and route I wanted to run beforehand, and second if my pace wasn't great it would feel like a "bad run."

Now I run without a phone, no GPS watch, nothing that will tell me my precise pace or distance. I generally pick a time window (i.e. "I'm going to run 1-2 hours, brb") and a direction and head off. From there, I listen to my legs and my breathing and adjust the route to go further or shorter, the pace to be faster or more modest. Because of this, my overall mileage has increased, my pace on average is slower, and I have a blast on almost all of my runs.

Where I run

2 years ago, {Alejandra} and I moved to Medford near the {The Fells}. When we did, I started mostly running on trails. Trail running is unique in that you're often going over complex or difficult terrain, which forces adjustments of pace and form and work a wider range of muscles and stabilizers than road running. I realized pain I'd get at higher mileages wasn't happening - even though it felt like I was jumping over rocks and sprinting down twisty paths. I attribute that to this frequent modulation of pace and stride.

Trail running also introduced me to the world of ultra-marathoning, which has exploded in popularity over the last decade. I found filmmaker Jamil Coury chronicling immense runs and checking in dozens of miles in, the air thin at high elevation, with an ear-to-ear smile describing how it had just started hailing and that it was so awesome man, what a blast. This relentlessly positive attitude towards daunting physical challenges was infectious. It inspired me to turn runs into backyard adventures - runs {run to Salem, up the coastline to nearby towns}, {sunday marathon 2021, solo marathons through new neighborhoods}, and exploration of new trails in the forest. And while I've done a couple of organized races like the Fells Winter Ultra, I most enjoy solitary challenges.

Compiled 2024-04-21