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Dear Running, Thank You For Everything

Joshua is a pivotal part of Runologie and also a roaster at Pine State Coffee. You’ve likely seen him at The Laboratory but if not, you can’t miss his blond hair streaking the streets of Raleigh.

I’d be steering you wrong if I said that I haven’t been trying to figure out how to say thank you for a while now. I’d be lying if I denied that this had already been writing itself several years and many miles ago. I was constructing this love letter, this ode, or what-have-you, as an adolescent collecting miles along the shoulder of Route 9. The words were all around me. They were in the fading sun as we laid our bodies down on the summery asphalt, leaving silhouettes of sweat in vacant parking spaces. There were words under every footstep I stomped across the pavement. With my stride I had been constructing these sentences; they were weaved in between stoplights and the cracks of uneven sidewalks. I’ve witnessed myself grow older in the passing reflections of parked cars. I’ve zoned out in endorphin riddled states of silence on the bumper of my car, contemplating life on the hood of Kevin’s car. We never really questioned the way we indulged in the ending of a run just as much as we longed for the next one. We just laughed at it. We’d reminisce of the past and foreshadow the future while waiting for sweat to subside on our forearms and shins. The saltiness layered on my skin could tell a story without me ever opening my mouth. I’ve maintained a sort of reverent desire to commit to something both bigger and smaller than myself. To me, running is of the utmost simplicity and running is of perennial complexity. Over the course of the last ten or so years, I rarely expressed how I felt about running through writing. I thought I would never be able to find the right words; I needed the words to be brute and able to carry weight. I also needed the words to be poignant and romantic. In hindsight, I was apprehensive to let the world in. The thought of allowing the world to have what was exclusively mine startled me. The respite that running has been in my life has always felt sacred. Those are my moments. I tossed and turned at the idea of sharing those moments with anyone else. 

 Think about holding something so near and dear to your heart and then for the first time, letting the world hold it too. I know we put so much of ourselves out there into the world these days, but it takes sheer fortitude to write about the things that make you feel alive. It takes courage to use your voice to express yourself for all eyes to see. How could I just let the rest of the world into my world? I’ve always been one to wear my heart on my sleeve, but it’s even more audacious to wear it on your wrist like a watch. It’s a bit like how they tell you not to run with scissors. You learn how to walk and then you learn how to run. And then you learn how to run with something to say. I suppose I could just go about my life and keep to myself about what sparks the fire. But I know there are people out there who can resonate with what I’m feeling. Emma Stone says to Ryan Gosling in ‘La La Land’: “People love what other people are passionate about.” For me, it’s always been running. The culture, the community, the possibilities. The connection to my surroundings by means of running is something I wouldn’t have ever attained anyway else. The ubiquitous runner’s high reverberating off the backs of your best friends is an unmatched feeling. After the countless miles I’ve logged, I have never taken a big-picture moment to step back and be thankful for everything that running has given me. Running continues to take me higher than I ever thought possible. Running continues to amplify love. Despite thousands of miles, despite the love it introduced me to, despite the heartbreak it dazed me with, and the heartbreak it carried me through; I never knew how to say thank you for everything. This is my latest effort.

I’m thankful for all of the inspiration that has relentlessly infused and enriched my life. I have found inspiration in every kind of runner I’ve crossed paths with. I’ve been inspired by my best friends and even by those who train to crush me to smithereens. I like to believe that along the way I’ve been able to inspire those around me (and those who see me only from afar, or in passing). There is something so innate and instinctive about being inspired onto your feet. There have been mornings and evenings where the actions of others have gotten my shoes on my feet and my feet out the door. I’ve witnessed people running to their absolute limits. Those are the kind of efforts that get me up at 5 a.m. in the freezing rain. I catch sight of someone pushing their boundaries, thus I look in the mirror and ask myself the hard question: What’s stopping me from doing the same thing, and then some?

I’m thankful for the friends, the community, and the family. I love to watch running. I love watching people faster than me and people slower than me race their hearts out. I love to watch them have fun with it, point at the camera, and stick their tongue out. Running, in any form, requires a little bit of swagger and a little bit of courage. Before the pandemic struck, the running scene in Raleigh had been like nothing I had ever been a part of before. It’s a community that is always evolving and the number of runners continues to grow. A vibrant running community can do a lot to help make a city feel like home. While I endured the adversity of relocating to a brand new city, I found consolation in the togetherness of the running community. Meeting someone for the first time can be a bit unusual, but running with a stranger can feel a lot like catching up with an old friend. Running has the ability to bring people together instantly. There is a captivating force that running can manifest between two strangers. The local run clubs are inclusive and ceaselessly welcoming, whether you’re looking for conversation or fast competition. Or maybe you’re in it for the post-run beer. Cheers to that and cheers to you. I like your style. To the dismay of everybody everywhere, the last year has forced us to spend more time than ever with ourselves. There hasn’t been a single thing glamorous about the miles we’ve run this year. The loneliness of the long run has been made even lonelier. We have had no choice but to run side by side with whatever it is we’re going through. I’ve learned more about myself this year than any year prior. Not one step has been easy, but running hasn’t stopped.  There has been an unyielding learning curve to keeping one foot in front of another. And no matter the number of miles that you’ve run at the end of the day, I just want to say that I’m proud of you. 

Running continues to be an indispensable outlet for me. It stands the test of time as a transparent channel of emotion and inspiration. Till my legs cease to keep moving, the destination is always going to be ‘Vibetown’. It’s a state of mind and a feeling. Ask me about that another time. Running has been my storytelling medium since the first time I bustled along the backroads of my hometown. It was just me, an empty road, and the bay hiding itself behind the swaying marsh. It is all poetry to me. My body moving as freely as a body could ever move. The fluidity in each step as I stare down a North Carolina sunset. These days, I think about calling my childhood best friends as I run directly into what could pass for a painting. I think about all the love and pain I’ve ever felt, how it has all gotten me to this point in time. The sun setting behind the water tower would not look the same if everything in my life never happened the way it did. Sometimes I swear that I wish it would never end, that I could always be on this road at this time and the only thing that would be changing would be the time on my watch. Sometimes I find myself craving for the road to be infinite. But I leave that thought right where it is and realize the beauty in the certitude that the road is indeed finite. The run has shown me an endless number of sunsets and roads. The day I bound myself to just one road is the day I surrender the spirit that has taught me everything I know about myself.

For all I know, the case can be made that running embodies the perfect juxtaposition. Running is love and fear. It is bliss and misery. Pleasure and pain. Success and failure. I could keep going, but we’ve all been to these places, we’ve heard these stories, and we’ve been these stories. We all have a reason why we find ourselves stepping out onto the open road everyday. The runner inside of us all hasn’t faltered in getting us out the door. We still reach for more and we still reach higher. Rather than me versus you, this year has been me versus myself. You versus you. More than ever, we chose love over fear. When failure looked imminent, we opted for the little successes and the unexpected, pure moments of bliss. 2020 compelled me into thinking a lot about intentionality. The fragility of life and the speed at which the years start to move past us. I keep finding that last week was actually last month and last month was six months ago. Everything that I’ve started this past year, I’ve made sure that I’ve finished. All the things I’ve been doing, I’ve been doing with everything I have in me. I’ve been wholehearted and emphatic in my running. My will to be wholly alive has been unwavering. My breathing is deeper. When I laugh with my friends, it has been uninhibited and unreserved laughter. The people and the things we love can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. My last run could be my last one. Running doesn’t have to be everything to you, but I believe that it can change everything for you. The world is at your feet and the road still yours for the taking. In spite of everything that we’ve gone through this past year, I’m just happy that we still choose to seek out the tranquility and composure of the run. Regardless of how many miles the bottoms of your shoes have seen, you and I both are still here together. Not in front of or behind one another, but side by side. Let’s talk running again sometime. Thank you for running and thank you for reading.