I consider myself a runner, but I haven’t always viewed myself this way. Prior to coming to Colorado College, I ran occasionally but unhappily; I’d push myself too hard through three miles, feel horrible afterwards, and vow not to put myself through that torture again for at least a week. When I came to the shocking realization that not only can you run at a leisurely pace, but you can also run with your friends, my world was shaken. I started running daily and have been hooked ever since.’
Reflecting on my newfound love for running, I realized that it’s not just the joy that the physical exercise brings me on an individual level. It is the sense that I am part of a larger culture. Whether I am running alone or with friends in Colorado Springs, I am bound to pass plenty other runners. Some of these runners I see daily, others only once. Regardless, there’s an intrinsic bond that I feel with these runners as we nod, wave, or exchange “good mornings” with each other. We are in a mutual physical state, perhaps even mutual mental or emotional states too. And that’s comforting, whether I am huffing and puffing through my run or feel at the top of my game.
As a runner embedded—or who at least feels as though she is embedded—in the Colorado Springs running community, I get a sense of running culture shock every time I run somewhere different. Each place I run offers a different vibe.
When I return to my hometown of Warwick, N.Y., I receive exasperated and irritated looks when I run. Instead of the heavily trafficked, soft terrain of the Tiger Trail, I’m surrounded by suburban homes and farmlands. Though I can breathe much easier from the drop of roughly 6,000 feet in elevation, I am plagued by the hills and humidity. The cows I pass give me looks as quizzical as the New Yorkers in their homes, brewing about some guy who cut them off on the Palisades Parkway. I get the sense that in their minds, there are far more pressing matters than running to attend to. Thus, I am at home in a geographical sense, but not in a running sense.
The shock was even greater when I traveled to Cuba with CC’s Latin America program last year. My friend Grace Ford ’19 and I would meet every morning to run along the northern coast of Havana, called “El Malecón.”The Malecón became our new Monument Creek; the crumbling, pebbled sidewalk our new Tiger Trail. Waves crashed mercilessly along the Malecón walls as sweat poured down our tomato-red faces burning in 80-degree humidity at 7 a.m. Meanwhile, the Cubans around us seemed shocked to see two girls running in shorts and tank tops in the cold.
Now, I am currently in Germany with CC, enrolled in a music course titled, “In the Footsteps of Bach.” We’ll be traveling all around northeast Germany this block, visiting different places that were important to Bach’s life and work. However, for the first week, we’ve been in Lüneburg taking classes at Leuphana University. In our down time, I’ve taken the opportunity to explore the town during my runs. I’ve found myself in a new running culture yet again. Since every day it is roughly 30 degrees with virtually no sunlight, I haven’t had to deal with much sweat. The humidity is still acute, as I wind my way through old cobblestone streets and fairy-tale forests that are thick with fog. Though the Germans around me don’t give me the same facial expressions as the New Yorkers and Cubans do, I still feel out of place. There are other runners, yes, and they run at all times of day, but the preferred mode of exercise is clearly biking. Every sidewalk has a red brick section dedicated to the bike lane, and there’s a parking garage just for bikes at the train station.
While examining these different running cultures, I started wondering why I continue to run despite the undesirable conditions and judgmental looks I receive. Perhaps I like the alternative terrains to break up the monotony of the Tiger Trail jog. Maybe it’s how much better my respiratory system feels at lower elevation. It could be the way I can learn so much about a place and its people through exploring new running routes. But I think it’s simpler: it’s for the love of running. It’s for the feeling of being alive and feeling connected to nature; feeling like a runner and feeling that as out of place as I may be, there are other runners out there somewhere, feeling the exact same way I do. I’d run around the whole world if I could, for the love of running. Just at a leisurely pace.