Design by Sonali Narayan

On Oct. 24, 2021, like in years before, the writers of The Michigan Daily Arts stretched out their hammies to participate in a grueling challenge of mental fortitude and physical fitness: the Probility Ann Arbor Marathon. A little pretentious, a little weird, Daily Arts had two relay teams: A-Side and B-Side (a reference to the special themed B-Sides that Arts publishes bi-weekly). Read the initial race impressions from our 2021 runners here. Additionally, you can read reflections from A-Side here and B-Side runners here.

When I was in third grade, the coolest girls on the playground had an obsession with these specific athletic jackets. Like most 8-year-olds, I wanted to fit in; I asked my mom for one, even though they weren’t cheap, and I was still young enough that I changed clothing sizes every year as I grew. When my mom finally caved, I found that I didn’t look like the cool girls even when I wore it. The jacket never quite fit — too small around the shoulders, stomach and hips — a kind of tight that made me feel more and more uncomfortable as the school day went on. Eventually, I gave up on wearing it altogether.

Looking back, that jacket was one of the first times that I remember feeling fat, and was the beginning of my difficult relationship with clothing. The jacket itself, intended for athletes and often purchased by affluent helicopter moms, sent a clear message: This isn’t made for you.

Although I’ve spent most of my life balancing between competitive sports and periods of being generally non-athletic (as I’ve talked about before), running is one of the things I’ve shied away from the most.

Playing sports is all about finding your position. For soccer, I played defense; for basketball, I focused on turnovers rather than baskets; for my brief stint in high school ultimate frisbee, I helped fill co-ed quotas so we could play; for my rec flag football league, I stayed away from the ball altogether (except for the one time I accidentally caught a throw and we got slapped with an ineligible receiver penalty). Running has no teammates or rules. It is just you and your head, and the shaky knowledge that you’re way more out of breath than you should be and that all of the blood has rushed to your face and god you’re sweaty and wow, don’t you wish this was easier.

My first forays into running were brief: usually jogging for a minute or so before going back to walking. However, I think the thing that finally jump-started me into taking runs was the elliptical. People love to hate on the elliptical, calling it lazy or ineffective, but from my experience, it’s a great place to start. It’s got the motion of running without the impact, and it works the cardiovascular system without overdoing it. For a newbie, it’s a beautiful baby step.

Over the past few years, though, I began to venture away from the relative safety of the elliptical and into the real world. My runs were short — 20 minutes, tops, with lots of walking breaks — but they were runs that pushed me, challenging me to run up and down the wooded pathways of my hometown or the concrete streets of Ann Arbor. I tried to exercise once a day during the pandemic; I started with long walks and bike rides, but eventually threw runs into the mix, finding a perfect route around the Big House.

My insecurities about not looking like an “athlete” still hit at weird times, but so does the sheer will to combat them. I hate going to the Intramural Sports Building because the girls in matching sports bra-leggings sets are incredibly intimidating. I still go. At home, I stick to the forests so that I’m less likely to run into people I know. But I still run, even when I do see them. One of the good things about running is that you eventually get so tired that you can’t think anymore; you can only keep moving forward.

I would say the worst part about running has been the injuries. This past summer, I tried to make myself into a capital-R Runner by running three times a week with increasing distances; two weeks into my month-long running schedule, I found myself with rip-roaring shin splints. It seems like every time I try to exercise more, I find myself injured, as if by trying to make myself healthier I’m making everything worse. If I’d gained any endurance by the time of injury, I would have to start all over again. Still, despite the endlessly Sisyphean cycle of injuries, I’ve found that running brings me sheer satisfaction. Coming back from a run, looking at my face and realizing how stupidly red it is, and being just absolutely desperate to take a shower … there’s nothing like it. Because, holy crap, I ran today. One mile, three miles, whatever. I did that. I keep coming back to running, even if it’s been months since I’ve been able to take a run.

In July, when I first got the Daily Arts listserv email gauging interest in running a marathon relay, I really wanted to do it. Never mind that I’d never run more than three miles, never mind that I struggled to hit a ten-minute-mile — I wanted to run a marathon. I wanted to say that I’d run (part of) a marathon. I thought about it for more than a month before I decided that I was ready to commit, stuck on the pros and cons. Cons: You’re not very good at running. Pros: But this would be a great excuse to get better. Cons: You’ve never gone six miles before. Pros: But isn’t this a good time to try?

In some ways, the idea of “Daily Arts Run a Marathon” is kind of silly. Why do we, a section devoted to art and culture, do something so, you know, athletic? My job at The Daily — watching movies, writing pieces and editing other people’s work — is all done sitting down. Moving from the desk to a seven-mile relay seems like an abrupt shift. But I think that’s what makes it so fun: It’s unexpected. Sports can win their annual football game against The State News; why can’t we run a marathon? Sure, we’re a section filled with people who look at me blankly when I talk about sports, or who would only run if it were a literal emergency. Yet we still do this every year, defying stereotypes.

I think that’s why I was so excited to join this marathon team. What better place to try to push yourself to the next limit than with a supportive community? What better time to be a girl unexpectedly running a marathon than with other people who might be a little unexpected?

In the end, I wasn’t able to run the marathon on Oct. 24 with the rest of Arts. My schedule changed, and my injuries came back, and it just didn’t work out. But what’s changed me most about this experience is that there is nothing stopping me from running, except myself. Who knows? Maybe I’ll run another marathon on my own someday. It’s just nice to know that I can, either way.

And in case you were wondering, I checked: They don’t sell those jackets anymore. Good riddance.

Senior Arts Editor Kari Anderson can be reached at kariand@umich.edu.