If you were to ask me why I run, I could give you any number of predictable and entirely true answers.
- I run because it helps keep my weight in check.
- I run because it allows me to work through my anxiety in a healthy way.
- I run because it grants me precious alone time in an otherwise bumbling metropolis.
- I run because it gives me the feeling of control when life can be at times overwhelming.
- I run because they sometimes give out free bagels at the end.
I imagine if you ask any runner in the world that question, they would spout off some combination of this same answer: we run because it helps keep our physical and mental selves in balance. Certainly if I were to tell you that’s why I run, I would be telling you the truth – at least, 95% of it.
The other 5% of the reason I run is something entirely different. I don’t know if this is a universal runner thing, like our love of bagels, or if – as I suspect – this is something a little more unique to me. It’s not something I share regularly, because it all sounds a little whimsical and childish, but I’ll go ahead and lay it out there anyways:
I run because every now and then, when the conditions are just right, running can feel like flying.
Now, I’ve wanted to fly ever since I was a two year old in tights mouthing every word to Mary Martin’s Peter Pan. I was captivated with the idea of weightlessness, dreamt about it constantly, and scraped many a knee jumping off staircases and out windows during Ronald Reagan’s second term. It was only my love of all things Neverland that persuaded me to keep a pixie cut for several Olympic Games past the time period where it was socially acceptable.
As I grew older, my desire to fly diminished, largely driven by an intense fear of heights solidified at years of summer camps ropes courses. I had become a regular Peter Banning – afraid of heights and carrying a giant flip phone – and thought flying had been taken off my bucket list once and for all.
And then I became a runner, and all that changed. Now don’t get me wrong – not every run gives me the feeling of flying. In fact, only a small percentage do, and even then, it’s never for the entire workout. The conditions have to be perfect – I’m warmed up but not tired, the weather is just right, my gait feels long, my feet feel light – and then, if I’m lucky, I’ll experience it. Every now and then, when all those stars align, it feels for a few magic strides like I’m soaring. I felt it during the NYC Marathon this past November as I entered the streets of Brooklyn. I felt it during my last Central Park race as I rounded the curve by the Central Park Zoo. I felt it during today’s 10-miler in Riverside Park where the path curves and there’s a garden – which, consequently, is also where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks get together in their third (and best) feature length film together.
Sometimes whole months go by and I never get that feeling – I may be too out of shape, or too tired, or too distracted – but on those rare occasions it hits, the feeling of flying in my running shoes is even more uplifting than pixie dust. I can only describe it as feeling like you’re in the exact right place at the exact right time, and it’s at least 5% of what keeps me coming back to this sport again and again.
Does anyone else ever feel on top of the world – or even hovering slightly above it – when a segment of a run feels just perfectly right?