In 2021, like in years before, the writers of The Michigan Daily Arts are stretching 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, The Daily team is a mix of seasoned athletes and … less seasoned athletes. For the sake of journalism and prestige, The Daily’s tenacious review-writing gremlins are closing their laptops, tying up their Brooks and hitting the Ann Arbor pavement. Non-gremlin but marathon-interested University of Michigan students can join the marathon with the discount code “Goblue25.”
Brenna “I hate running, but I’ll die before I’m bad at it” Goss
I’ve wanted to learn how to run ever since I was forced to run a mile in sixth grade gym class. I knew it was coming weeks ahead of time, but I didn’t bother to prepare for it. After all, I was spending 20 hours per week in my dance studio, training for competitions and a potential future career — how much harder could running be? Unfortunately, I didn’t get the answer I was looking for. I made it one lap around the field before I gave up and just started walking. Unable to stand being terrible at anything, I started training in fits and spurts. But although my mile times gradually got shorter, I never made it more than a month before giving up on the whole idea, only to have to start all over again when I got my motivation back. The problem was, I just hated running. I hated the feeling of my heart constricting painfully in my chest, my throat dry and scraping. I hated the cramps that would wedge themselves down through my shoulder and up under my ribs. In the end, my desire to improve was never stronger than my desire to just avoid it all.
But, for better or for worse, I’m a stubborn person. I’ve never been one to let things go easily. And no matter how much my body shouts at me that it’s just not meant for cardio, I am determined to prove it wrong. Even if I nearly passed out while forcing myself to the peak of a 14,265-foot mountain. Even if my heart was beating 195 bpm while climbing up Colorado’s sand dunes. Even if running makes me feel like I’m always just a couple of steps away from a heart attack. If my body is the instrument through which I experience the world, then it better be well prepared to do everything I’m going to ask of it.
I made up my mind in sixth grade, and even a decade later, I haven’t forgotten it: I’m going to learn how to run.
Elizabeth “I have asthma, but I’m not asthmatic” Yoon
Within our lives, we live out little loops, becoming certain kinds of people defined for a moment by our fascinations. Soccer player, high school debater, school doer. Our pet obsessions and interests memorialize and drive our outward presentation. It is, in part, subconscious while also a sustained performance. Who we are (how we are perceived and how we envision ourselves) is tied to our own baked-in idiosyncrasies. They are the result of compounded habits and tics.
The graphic novel “Habibi” by Craig Thompson illustrates this well. Toward the end of the novel, Thompson has a visual spread of the many different lives the main characters have lived. You see the characters as children, teenagers and young adults. Each iteration is drastically different, adapted to changing circumstances and lifestyles. Their lives were trying yet expansive and different: constantly changing, evolving, devolving and mobile. I want the same. I want to look back and see my life segmented into vibrant and distinct phases.
Thus, I run the marathon to reboot myself post-COVID-19. I want to build new habits and successfully merge the athlete I was in high school with the more sedentary co-ed I am now. I want to make use of my many sports bras and evolve myself into two things: a person who rises early and a person who can gleefully run seven miles. The first goal is already in the process of coming true. My summer morning commute had me very begrudgingly trudging out of bed at 6:30 a.m. While I am not yet gleeful (and have also not started running more than two miles), I am very hopeful that by October, I will have enough lung capacity to laugh while running my leg of the marathon relay. And if not laughing, armed with my inhaler, I will definitely be making some kind of laugh-adjacent, strangled wheezing noise.
Kaitlyn “Retired middle school track star” Fox
The start of my running career dates back to sixth grade when my ex-Marine officer gym coach approached me after the infamous PACER test and said, “Fox, I’m recruiting you for the 4×100 relay.” I didn’t particularly enjoy running at the time, but I was terrified of saying no to the coach that ordered burpees left and right and had scrawny middle schoolers flipping tires across the school soccer field.
I quickly discovered that I was actually a decent runner after our relay team wound up winning the local conference championship. My middle school running career was short-lived, however, when I came down with pneumonia in the seventh grade, putting me on the sidelines for nearly two years as my lungs recovered.
While running never became my main sport (I ended up dedicating myself to tennis in high school), I continued racing on my own time, even logging a few miles before tennis practices and running my first half marathon before my senior season. Nowadays, finding the time and energy to maintain my fitness is a challenge, and I’m not always as eager as I was in high school to lace up my shoes and hit the road. But I’ve stuck with it because running is a constant challenge, and I want to conquer it.
As a type 3 on the Enneagram (aka the “achiever”), running presents an amazing opportunity to strive for more and work on bettering myself. I love the prospect of adding extra miles to my weekly mileage, beating my personal records and watching my body adapt to the challenges of running. Even when my legs feel stiff and lungs burn, I know that pain is turning me into a better, stronger athlete.
To put it plainly, I love the “running aesthetic.” I love waking up before the rest of the world to go for a long run. I live for the adrenaline rush before a race. I’m secretly proud when someone tells me I’m crazy for enjoying running. I chuckle at running memes, and I love the wholesomeness of the running community.
Darby “Inclement weather be damned” Williams
I took up running out of necessity.
My senior year of high school was a disaster of tempestuous proportions. Literally. Two months into the school year my school and home in the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit by two Category 5 hurricanes. I was forced to evacuate and live in Utah with my two little sisters for the remainder of my senior year. All in all, I spent eight months sleeping on a deflated air mattress in the living room of my grandparents’ basement.
That year brought with it six college rejections, a string of chronic migraines and the worst heartbreak of my life. Senior year was as much an exercise in resilience as it was an exercise in rejection. At its culmination, I was left completely directionless.
I took up running because I needed something to reach for. I signed up for a half marathon, despite only having run eight miles before. I trained and trained and trained. I spent hours in the summer sun, sometimes leaving the track at 10 p.m. Looking back, my first race time was nothing to write home about. Nevertheless, it left me with a small pink medal, copious blisters and the gift of something I thought I had lost long ago: purpose.
I signed up for another race. And another. During my gap year, I ran five half marathons. Running afforded me the luxury of losing myself in the act of progress for progress’s sake. The beauty of running, for me, was in the sheer joy of moving forward. Speed and direction became secondary as I lost myself in the thrill of the race.
Running taught me the power of being present. In past years, I had defined myself through past failures and future anxieties. In the time I trained, I was able to focus on the things that brought me joy and fulfillment. I taught at an elementary school, I acted in Shakespearean plays, I sang. I left the heartbreak, the rejection letters and that shitty deflated mattress in my wake.
Amid the storm-stricken debris of my past aspirations, I finally found my footing, and having done so, I did what runners do best.
I moved forward.
Gigi “Send help — lost on a sidewalk somewhere in the Midwest” Guida
When I first arrived in Ann Arbor, and for many months after, I had no idea where the heck I was.
Before freshman move-in, I’d lived on the same block of Center City Philadelphia my whole life. My family had moved only once, when I was a far-from-cognizant newborn, from a rowhouse on one end of our block to an identical rowhouse a few doors down. Eighteen years later, I moved again. This time, not a few doors down, but to a Midwestern college town. Driving through flat farmland, turning on Washtenaw Avenue and walking up the steps of South Quad, I entered what would become more than a momentary state of geographic and cultural disorientation.
In a way I hadn’t predicted, I had a hard time making sense of Ann Arbor. Where was I? Would you call it a town? A suburb, maybe? Certainly not a city like I had been told. Where were all the elderly people, the kids younger than college-aged? Or was the whole place a large-scale hotel for transient 20-something-year-olds who came and went? Where were the parks? The old buildings? The gathering spaces? What did it mean to live here? I didn’t know, but I was doing it anyway. I was lost in space, without a sense of place and, for a long time, Ann Arbor didn’t feel like home.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2020 that this began to change when, in a moment of pandemic hysteria, I began training for my first marathon. During that time, my runs were vital nutrients to my everyday sanity; they were a surefire method of escape, a delicious departure from Zoom and my bedroom desk. Crucially, my daily run also became an essential cartographic tool; running in and around Ann Arbor was when I finally came to know it.
Carried by my own two legs, I found forests, parks, cabins, farms, deer and a gated mansion or two. I ran through yellow sassafras leaves and underneath snowy branches. Herons skulked on the banks of the Huron River, robins and blue jays fluttered across the path in front of me. Far away from my hometown, I saw brightly colored townhouses with front and back porches, cabins made of varnished wood, an old church, now refurbished and residential, a grand stained-glass window letting light into a living room.
Notably, I got lost all the time. Outrageously lost. Scarily lost! A certain sort of I-don’t-have-my-phone-the-sun-is-setting-and-I’m-on-a-dirt-road lost. But as I got more and more lost in the Ann Arbor landscape (and do brace yourself for the incoming cliché), I was starting to understand exactly where I was.
I ran my marathon in December 2020 in Philly. I finished Rocky-style at the top of the Art Museum steps. I hugged my mom, I looked out at the sunset and the skyline, I totally cried. Months later, in Ann Arbor now, I’m still running, still reorienting. But this time around, I’m not starting from scratch; I know my way around the block a little bit. So, running a leg of the Ann Arbor Marathon feels like some way to celebrate that feeling of familiarity, to commemorate this weird town I’ve begun to know, to be able to say, “Yeah, this is where the heck I am.”
Ross “In it for the runner’s high” London
To everyone who thinks they can’t run or that running sucks, that it hurts and burns and aches and “oh god not shin splints …”: I say, think again. Yes, I, too, was one of you, many years ago. Sometime after running a 16-minute mile in gym class and only narrowly passing the PACER, I was introduced to running in high school by a friend. She was a track star, easily running a six-minute mile to my labored 12. But — and here’s the key for you naysayers — she was patient with me and jogged alongside as I heaved and wheezed and puttered on.
In time, I got faster, but I wasn’t running well. I would get injured (my iliotibial band still gives me trouble) and would go to physical therapy only to hurt myself once again. As I worked in a running shoe store, spending most of my time diagnosing other runner’s problems and prescribing packaged solutions, you’d think I would have all the answers, but I still had plenty of my own stubborn aches and pains. So my running “career” came in fits and starts. A high-mileage week here and there before life or injury seemed to get in the way. But early this summer, after a few years of only the occasional run, I was determined to get back out there.
I went back to that same friend, who now happens to be my partner, and simply said, “run with me.” Gleefully, she took me for a slow and steady 5k, reminiscent of our runs years prior, and with that, I was hooked again. I can’t get enough. I took the same advice I gave many runners (to get a new pair of shoes and try running smarter, not harder) and the outcome has been blissful.
Many of those never-runners think that the runner’s high is a myth. It is not, and it’s why I keep coming back to the activity that, if my father’s experience is any indicator, will probably wreck my joints by the time I’m 50. The rush of endorphins when you pass that first hump and start to cruise, when you fly across the pavement feeling like an urban gazelle, when your footsteps sync with the rhythm of your music and you power up a tough hill — that’s why I run.
Those who have written off running just haven’t hit that stride. I learned that you just need to get out there, you just need to start, to push through the discomfort as your heart and lungs and legs grow to support you, and the euphoria will follow. So find yourself a patient friend (or drop me a line) to hold you accountable and cheer you on. The runner’s high is out there, you just have to work for it.
Kari “Competitive but not athletic” Anderson
When it comes to exercise and sports, I’ve long believed that people can be placed into a sort of Punnett square of categories, based on two traits: how athletic they are and how competitive they are. Just think of an elementary school dodgeball game: There are the people who take it incredibly seriously, while others sit on the sidelines. Unfortunately, I’ve always been the “overly competitive but not athletic enough to make up the distance” type; I love sports (a rare trait in the Arts section, I’ll admit) but playing sports has always been disappointing. I’ve spent most of my life trying to be the “seemingly effortlessly good at sports but also don’t actually care that much” type, but have never been able to make it work.
Over the years, I’ve picked up about a dozen sports, learning rules and falling in love with the games, but failing miserably at the traditional understanding of success. Even as I watched college basketball season after season, I still only scored one basket in the seven years I played recreational basketball. Likewise, no matter how many baseball games I watched, I still didn’t record a single hit in the years I played softball. And although I love watching Olympic runners who are more fit than I will ever be, I have never really been able to run.
I’ve tried running on and off over the years, but it hasn’t quite stuck as part of my routine. The excuses started easy — asthma works great as an excuse, although less so once your doctor tells you that you basically don’t have asthma anymore — and then got more specific. I didn’t like the feeling of impact as you hit the ground, or I never had tennis shoes that fit quite right, or I had cramps and didn’t want to make them worse, or I wasn’t in good enough shape to even try. Most of my “runs” when I was younger consisted of about two minutes of running and then walking the rest of the way, feeling defeated.
But, last year, something clicked. Maybe it was that I didn’t have anywhere to go. Maybe it’s that there was no one else on campus, and therefore no one to judge my slow pace and sweaty ponytail. Maybe it’s that the Michigan Marching Band, which had been my main source of exercise during the fall, had to cancel our season due to the pandemic. Either way, I found myself taking runs around the Big House, walking when I needed to but still losing myself in that feeling where your breathing hits a rhythm and your brain slows down and your legs move in time to the killer beats pumping through your headphones. Running still is, in all truth, all the things I hated about it when I was younger — legs sore, heavy breathing, impact against your feet, face turning red and sweaty — but, like spinach or wine, it’s growing on me as I get older.
There is a part of me that’s worried about trying to run again, since my body has a history of rebelling against introducing new exercise. First, it was asthma; about two years ago, I got a stress fracture; last month, I tried to run every other day for a month and ended up getting shin splints two weeks in. But I’m still hopeful for this challenge because even if I walk part of the way, I’ll still have accomplished something huge. I’m excited to let my competitive spirit run free but also to revel in the fact that just because I didn’t score any points doesn’t mean that I didn’t succeed. Sometimes just showing up and competing is a victory in and of itself.