Several weeks back we asked you to tell us why you run, and the response was incredible. We received so many beautiful submissions from the community, and we were moved by the raw emotion that you gave us through your words. Below are the final three of six essays that we have chosen to share here in our Run Journal. We hope you enjoy!
WHY I RUN
Written and narrated by Juniper Sage Allen (15) and video editing by Zebulon James Allen.
WHY I RUN N°4
BY TAMMY BENNETT
This Breath of Mine
It's Why I Run
This breath of mine is cut with laughter while winding through the million shades of green on my Pacific Northwest hometown trail. Six feet apart from my trail friends of decades, our footfalls punctuate talk of the mundane dailies, the ebb and flow of middle-aged life, and sometimes the joyous or painful moments that require running shoes, labored breathing and judgement-free advice.
This breath of mine is happy, not self-conscious, and grateful. Taking a left here, a right there, seeing my dog dart between bushes while her long, hound dog nose takes its own curiosity-driven snorts of breath. Breathing on a solo, freestyle day ranges from nearly meditative on the windy flats, to ragged and gulpy on the steeper climbs. A long descent may elicit whoohooos, exhaled grunts from catching a toe on a protruding root, or a harsh uuumpphh when landing squarely in the middle of a trail-spanning puddle. This breath is childlike in its direct response to effort and terrain.
This breath of mine is cathartic. It starts in my chest, high and shallow, and sometimes is swallowed with a sadness that chokes it. Lacing my shoes, I know what this run will bring me and why I need it so. It won't work for me to run away, breathing those short, shallow breaths, or for me to run toward because there is overwhelming uncertainty in toward. What will deepen my inhalation and draw out my exhalation is the pattern of one step in front of the other. It is the permission to grieve, to succumb to the occasional raspy, ugly cry, and yet to continue onward. Ever onward. In the post-run moments of unlacing my shoes, my breath is calm and I feel my diaphragm move as my belly expands and contracts. This? This is tried and true, especially in pandemic times.
This breath of mine is a memory. Two dozen women, colorfully clad and shoulder-to-shoulder, climb the switchbacks of a favorite trail. Their chatter seems to hang in the air, still audible, even as the women continue running across a ridge and into a stand of trees. Their breath begins to synchronize and their pace evens out and small groups of two, three, four get lost in moving, sharing and letting go. Big groups are not always the answer, but the communal sound and spirit of multiple women's feet, breath, words and laughter can sometimes provide a lift that is unifying, important and, for now, not allowed.
This breath of mine accomplishes so much more than oxygenation and expelled carbon dioxide. It is the very essence of the most important moments on the trails, on the road, in my life. It reminds me what to hold on to, what to let go of, and what to let sit while I breathe and run and repeat. This little breath of mine? It is why I run.
WHY I RUN N°5
BY JACOB HOWLETT
Why do I run?
I run for community. Self-care. Meditation. Health. Me time. A chance to focus on my breath. And currently running may be my only opportunity to touch my community. I moved to Portland a few months ago with one of my major motivators being running. Running changed my life and running saved my life. And Portland is my running community. Somewhere in between selling my house in Washington and moving to Portland the world changed because of COVID-19 and the current pandemic. So much changed for all of us. We all moved out of our offices and into our houses. Meetings became video chats. And movie night moved from the cinema to the couch. The kitchen is the new restaurant and Dad (me) is the new chef. So much has changed and so much of our daily lives are alien and different, scary and stressful.
I read an article years ago about a chef who had moved to Portland from New York city. When asked what he thought about the two cities and their differences he said New York was a huge city with a park in the middle and Portland was a huge park with a city in the middle. I’ve always had that image in my mind and couldn’t agree more. When I lace up my running shoes and step out of my front door, as I make my way through the neighborhoods, and city streets to run trails in Forest Park and get lost in that jungle and its beautiful green canopy I can’t help but feel the park creeping throughout every street and neighborhood. I run to cover as much ground as I can and to be immersed in this community. To smell the flowers in each yard I run past. To wave at the morning dog-walkers. To hear the music in the park and smell dinner smells wafting from open windows. I run to remind myself that I’m strong. I charge a hill, I run an extra mile or two. I take a right instead of a left in an attempt to get lost. I run because the chances are good I’ll see a fellow runner. Maybe a stranger, maybe someone I know well, but either way a member of my tribe. Community. Running makes me brave and I run to not feel alone. COVID-19 and a pandemic have not taken running from me and they haven’t taken my community. Why do I run? I run for the pavement, the dirt, the smells, sights, sounds, and the people – my community.
WHY I RUN N°6
BY LT Justin “Qui Qui” Strausser, USN
At this point running is less of a workout to stay in shape and more part of the daily ritual. Just like brushing my teeth and making the bed, putting on some running shorts and lacing up joggers is just another event of the day. This because I am streaker. My first day of streaking (running every calendar day) was May 13th, 2015. I just passed my 5 year mark and it is why I run.
Up until starting the streak, I had always been some sort of runner. I ran a marathon in college, and then kept at it while going through flight school for the US Navy. While finishing up flight training I traded in my running shoes for some weight lifting CrossFit ones, but still put in some miles, especially on the weekends. Then the Navy sent me forward deployed to Atsugi Japan and I pulled out the running shoes again. Being deployed on an Aircraft Carrier was the reason for the switch. The treadmills were always open, where the functional fitness classes were only certain times of the day, and the small gyms on a carrier did not allow for circuit training. So I jumped on the treadmills at the sea side gym (one of the few that was on the outer skin of the ship) and watched the water pass by as we sailed across the Pacific.
On my 3rd deployment in 3 years, I decided to try and maintain a run streak for the first 30 days at sea. It was mostly something to do to pass the time in between flying and ground jobs plus it broke up the Groundhog Day that is being underway. Also, I wanted to see what all the streaking fuss was about. The first 30 days were by far the hardest of the journey. Tired legs were not used to no breaks, and I had to seriously throttle back the pace to finish 3 miles. After toughing through 30 days, the body finally succumbed that there would be no more rest days, and I decided I was not going to stop, at least through our time at sea.
Running on Deployment is easy. There are no hangovers to push through, enough time in the day to always sneak away for 45 minutes to get a run in, and it gave time for the mind to disappear from the demanding world around it. Returning in the fall I wasn’t sure how the real world was going to accommodate with the tradition, but with half the year down, I figured running for one year was a graspable goal. Running in the dense atmosphere that is Japan city landscape was not ideal, but thankfully there was a rice field with an almost exact 1 mile loop I would go jog around multiple times every day. My usual acquaintances were school children in matching uniforms meandering to class as well as elderly green thumbs tending to their small gardens. We would acknowledge one another with a slight bow, in my head knowing they were trying to figure out why a tall blond haired while male was running shirtless through their fields.
Being stationed abroad brought with it many memorable runs. I ran around the centuries old Imperial Palace in Tokyo. I ran a half marathon in Hawaii with a grueling final stretch around Diamond Head. I ran through the hills of South Korea where signs were hung stating to stay on the trail because landmines were buried throughout the woods (to dissuade North Korean spies from attempting to sneak onto military installations). I ran through the snowy mountains of Nagano before a day of skiing. I ran the dreadful late night runs after a return flight from the states in order to not miss a day after a 16 hour flight. But my time in the lovely country of the rising sun was coming to an end, and I was headed back home for a shore tour and thankfully getting some much needed time back home with the Mrs.
Returning to the states brought with a new challenge to my runs, normal life. Transitioning from the hectic “always go” schedule of abroad to a more subdued Monday through Friday work week where every night was slept in the same bed shifted my attitude of running. I began running with squadron mates and a local club on track nights. I headed out for the trails on the weekends but most days I would find myself jogging around suburban neighborhoods, still bowing at fellow passerby's at first. Running continued through major life events. I ran the morning of my wedding with my soon to be wife. I ran the evening after we found out she was pregnant (with twins) on pure adrenaline. I ran the morning before she gave birth, on a treadmill at the hospital, before our entire worlds changed. Throughout all the changes that aging has brought, running has always been there, needing to be completed before the calendar day turned.
After 3 much needed years of a shore tour, the Navy told me it was time to go back to sea and that is where I am currently, deployed onboard the Aircraft Carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69). Running on the carrier is much different than what I had grown so accustomed to. There is a single cardio room with about 15 treadmills. 2/3rds are at a permanent incline thanks to uneven floors, so you wait for the 5 good ones. The room heats up throughout the day (thanks to the outside temperature pushing 100) making mornings the only bearable time to go. The only thing to watch is the white painted wall in front of you and the occasional fellow jogger who nestles up alongside. Worst of all, because of COVID we have not pulled into a port since leaving, back in January. 120 days straight at sea. In case you were unaware Apple Music/Spotify drop dead after 30 days, so I am stuck with an old iPod with music from the era when people still used iPods. All of that being said, my daily runs are my release. No one owns me for those 45 minutes and I can lose myself in the rhythm of the rotating belt below.
I run because it is part of my daily routine now. It is no longer a question of if I will run, but when. I long for an open trail, with the sun shining down on my shirtless back, breathing in the forest full of natural life. Even though I daydream of this when my mind wanders away from the never changing white wall in front of me, I know it will be there whenever I return and god willing, I will still be lacing up my shoes every day to go tackle it. Some are not so lucky. I have learned this through deployments with friends who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. You have learned this because COVID has taken away some whose time was not supposed to be finished yet. Be thankful for every single day you have the opportunity to go and run. You never know when that last day will be, and the streak will finally have a blank calendar square.