WIAA
WIAA
435 Main Ave S | Renton, WA 98057 | (425) 687-8585
Twitter
Instagram
FaceBook
The LEAP Student Blog

'Why Run?' by Turner Van Slyke, Walla Walla High School
 11/22/2022 12:00:00 AM

Turner Van Slyke
Walla Walla High School, Class of 2024
 

 A five kilometer race is hard. Really hard. More than three times as long as a mile, and drastically more intense than a marathon, the 5k occupies a fiery niche between mental and physical ruin. "Red lining" is a concept used to describe the 3.11 mile slog, during which the runner is never comfortable with their pace. 5k pace feels like a prolonged sprint, faster than is sustainable.

One mile into a 5k, it's common to feel a chill scuttling down your spine as you realize the implications of the pace you've committed to. With two-thirds of the course ahead, the finish line is a distant blip on the horizon and life gets downright ghoulish. After each hill, lactic acid puddling in your body takes longer and longer to drain, the lead in your legs radiates heat into your chest and head, vibrant pain swells and metastasizes, and your manic heaving rubs your throat raw. This is where the outcome of your race is determined. It’s the bloodiest battle in the mental war of the 5k.

Eventually, you reach the two mile mark and feel hope of relief. Soon, the finish line will beckon you, and the clink of enemy spikes on gravel behind you will whip you into a frantic dance: the kick. Pain imbues that final 800 meters with a kind of holiness, but a Cross Country runner in the midst of their kick doesn't demand that same reverence from onlookers. A sweaty wad of windmilling arms, flailing legs and a few asthmatic gasps: you scarcely move any faster than you did at the start of your race. The difference now is that your mind is ablaze.

With fifty meters to go, you barrel towards the finish line at top speed. Even so, the final dregs of your race stretch on long enough to seem cruel, like you're running on sand while the finish line waves at you from its moving golf cart. Finally, you cross the line, swipe at the film of sweat and gnats in your eyes, and gulp air. The impossibly kind volunteers move you through the finish tunnel, where you tear off your bib code and then find your teammates. You're filled with relief, regardless of how you performed. Later you might reflect more critically, but for now you take solace in the fact that you're done racing.

The ferocity of the 5k experience makes Cross Country a polarizing sport. Who would voluntarily put themself in so much pain? Arguments abound surrounding the physical and mental benefits of running, but I tend to advocate for our sport in different ways.

In his book Science in the Soul, Richard Dawkins discusses the "tendency to justify the expense of… space exploration by reference to spin-offs such as the non-stick frying pan- a tendency I have compared to an attempt to justify music as good exercise for the violinist's right arm." Dawkins raises a relevant point: utilitarian arguments on behalf of science tend to lack appreciation for the romantic nature of curiosity. Similarly, oftentimes arguments on behalf of running don't acknowledge the magic of traveling the world on your feet, or the thrill of accessing every secluded stream and mountain top in view.

Evolutionary biologists agree that humans are shaped to stride, to breathe, to globe-trot using the hardware they're born with. I feel this, the inevitability of my physiology, often. One early November evening, I ransacked my closet for some warm clothes and set out on a run. It was the coldest day in a long time, and the chilly air stung my nose and lips. After a while, I found myself at the edge of one of Walla Walla's many vineyards, looking out over the Blue Mountains. I stood silently and felt the sun set behind me, while tendrils of night reached out from behind the mountains and wind swirled through my hair. I felt very small, like an astronaut in the vastness of space. I was grateful that running was a way for me to access not only this beautiful place, but also a state of mind undisturbed by the haphazard scramble of daily life. I shivered, turned my back on the mountains, and followed an icy tailwind home.

Special things happen when this belief in the profundity of running is shared.

The first is that people learning to push themselves physically tend to grow more driven, naturally encouraging a team culture that welcomes ambitious adventures. There are not many places I would rather be than stranded on a remote ridgeline with a gaggle of fellow runners, separated from our car by no less than four windswept peaks, three bramble-choked ravines, and a raging river. My friend Tas Grimm and I plan to run our first ultramarathon this winter, and our primary motivation is inarguably to get bragging rights over who's run the farthest on our team.

The second consequence of a team's running habit is noisy. Running as a group cultivates a kind of humor which is entirely unique: a dorky, sometimes obscenely immature frame of mind that is notoriously resilient. Regardless of whether a Cross Country team is on an early-morning jog under the moon and street lights, their frosty breath billowing before them, or if they are being deep fried in sweat and chalky dust on a sizzling evening, the same clever banter unites them. The same overplayed, nerdy inside-jokes make them cackle, and their eyes glitter with the same spark. Cross Country humor does its job well, somehow maintaining its entertainment value over thousands of miles on the pavement, trails, and track.

A final effect of team running is observed as a powerful sense of unity. The nature of Cross Country is that every runner enters a race with the same painful mission, and few athletes are as vulnerable as runners are in the midst of a race. This common burden fosters sincere empathy towards fellow teammates. Cross Country athletes depend on each other, and their mutual suffering contributes to their tight knit bond.

For me, the joy of a 5k lies not in the race itself, but in the knowledge that we are capable of extraordinary grit as well as wholehearted camaraderie. Running, this great meditation, is both a challenge and a lodestone, a vehicle for contemplation and a mechanism for insight.

A wispy truth lingers, just out of view, as we run. Its transcendent force pushes us over the ruts and roots of life, always there, always on the move.

---

Dawkins, Richard, and Gillian Somerscales. Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist. Random House, 2018.





Comments
From: Charlotte Van Slyke 11/22/2022 7:56 PM

My knees hurt. My lungs are trashed. My brain is exhausted & I’m heading for the hills.
Very inspiring!??????????


Post a Comment
Your Name
Your Email
Your email will not display on the blog. It will only be used privately if we need to contact you.
Your Comment
December 2022


Archives
Nov 2022
Oct 2022
May 2022
Feb 2022
Jan 2022
Nov 2021
Oct 2021
May 2021
Apr 2021
Mar 2021
Feb 2021
Jan 2021
Dec 2020
Nov 2020
Oct 2020
May 2020
Apr 2020
Mar 2020
Feb 2020
Jan 2020
Dec 2019
Nov 2019
Oct 2019
Jun 2019
Apr 2019
Mar 2019
Feb 2019
Jan 2019
Dec 2018
Nov 2018
Oct 2018
May 2018
Apr 2018
Mar 2018
Feb 2018
Jan 2018
Dec 2017
Nov 2017
Oct 2017
Apr 2017
Mar 2017
Feb 2017
Jan 2017
Dec 2016
Nov 2016
Oct 2016
Sep 2016
May 2016
Apr 2016
Mar 2016
Feb 2016
Jan 2016
Dec 2015
Nov 2015
Oct 2015
Sep 2015
May 2015
Apr 2015
Mar 2015
Jan 2015
Nov 2014
Oct 2014
May 2014
Apr 2014
Feb 2014
Jan 2014
Nov 2013
Sep 2013
May 2013
Apr 2013
Mar 2013
Feb 2013
Jan 2013
Dec 2012
Nov 2012
Oct 2012
Sep 2012
May 2012
Mar 2012
Feb 2012
Dec 2011
Nov 2011
Oct 2011
Sep 2011
Mar 2011
Jan 2011
Dec 2010
Nov 2010
Oct 2010
Washington Interscholastic Activities Association  |   435 Main Ave S   |  Renton, WA 98057  |  (425) 687-8585  |  © 2022