Sweat dripped down my face, burning my eyes upon contact. My hair was glued to my forehead, and my legs felt like lead. I felt uncomfortable, exhausted, and confused as to why I was voluntarily torturing myself. While all of my friends were out celebrating, I had agreed to participate in the 10-mile New Year’s Eve run with my parents.
Looking back, it’s surprising that this event has become one of my family’s annual traditions. I was never a runner, deeming the sport dull and tedious. A ten-mile run consisted of repeating the same motions for two long hours—there was nothing exciting or unpredictable about this monotony. Compared to basketball, this sport had no personality. As a member of my school’s varsity basketball team, I loved playing ball both for fun and competitively. Basketball was definitely a sport with a bold personality. Spectators cheered and booed, emotionally invested in the game. Each player displayed his individual characteristics, from the tall and intimidating center to the agile, fast, and deft forward. Although each player on the team has an important, specific role and unique skills, the five players must work cooperatively to score points. To me, distance running is far from “bold” and brings words like endurance, patience, and independence to mind. While running, I felt alone with the thoughts in my head. I felt no connection to the other runners—we were all in our own worlds. And as my basketball teammates used to joke, running is other sports’ punishment.
After the 25-minute mark, my body started to move easily as my brain stopped complaining. I looked back and saw my parents falling behind. With an encouraging wave, I continued running on ahead. My feet felt so light as they struck the pavement; I felt like Hermes speeding by the world on his winged sandals. The effortless feeling was an unexpected upside of a run that I’d been dreading. The streets I passed looked more beautiful than usual, and I started to appreciate the ever-changing views. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. A small breeze felt extremely refreshing, like a glass of lemonade after a hard day’s work in the sweltering heat. This was my first time experiencing that “runner’s high,” which I’d previously dismissed as myth.
I slowed down at a water stand, and a young girl handed me a bottle. “Good job, you’re almost done!” she said enthusiastically. I thanked her and took a long chug of cold water, quenching my thirst and giving me a second burst of energy. Realizing that strangers were there to support and encourage us, I felt a sense of community. There was a spirit of camaraderie in the air as runners smiled at the spectators. As I observed children laughing and sweating with their parents and elders, I realized that running united strangers and family alike. Watching the masses run in perfect sync toward the same destination, I felt that oceanic oneness in our shared humanity.
When I finally crossed the finish line, I felt ecstatic. Forty minutes later, my parents walked past the finish-line, hand in hand. They’d slowed as they’d aged, yet nevertheless they completed the ten miles. We looked at each other and laughed, feeling proud of ourselves. Although running doesn’t rely on individual abilities like basketball, there’s a sense of unity in a thousand runners running down the same streets toward the same destination. Runners often exchange a knowing smile as they pass each other. They know the pain, the sweat, and the effort it takes to endure a long-distance run. They know what it takes to keep going when the mind wants to quit, the tranquility when the body runs on auto-pilot, the vicissitudes experienced mile after mile. And although I still maintain that running is other sports’ punishment, the pleasure of accomplishment is well worth the temporary pain.