I DECLARED MY INDEPENDENCE YESTERDAY.
You probably didn’t notice. There was no formal diplomatic announcement, or fireworks or anything. I just went for a run.
Running and freedom have been associated for a long time. After all, the original “Marathon” was run to announce the victory of the Athenians over the Persians, which preserved Greek independence. And the American Revolution has a famous “run” too, albeit by a horse. (Paul Revere was just along for the ride.)
But I think that running, and running the marathon in particular, embodies many of the characteristics we associate with being “American.” The feeling that we can accomplish anything if we put our mind to it. The willingness to work hard toward a goal, and the determination to see it through.
And as an individual sport, running captures the myth of the “rugged individualist” pioneer, dependent on no one else, whose success or failure in life was entirely his own. No matter how conventional a marathon runner may be in other areas of life, he or she harbors a spark of the rebel that says in this I answer to myself and no other.
Three years ago I stood in the starting queue of my first marathon, 35,000 other runners packed tight around me. As we shambled toward the starting line and then began to jog, then to run, I distinctly remember thinking: All the training, all the preparation, everything that led up to this moment is done. For the next four hours I have no other obligations, nothing else to worry about. The only thing I have to do is run.
And what a liberating feeling that was.
I wasn’t the only one with a feeling of freedom that day. A few miles in I spotted this woman ahead of me:
Having helped raise two active kids, I can fully understand why this mom considers marathons vital to her sanity.
But any good run can be liberating. Yesterday I worked late to finish some important tasks. When I got home I felt tired and mentally fatigued, I hadn’t had dinner, and there was the usual list of stuff to do at home. Time to declare a little independence! I changed clothes, slipped the headlamp on, and hit the road.
Wearing my new trail shoes, I ran dirt roads, including a couple I’d never been down before. I soon slipped into a comfortable pace and cruised along, body rejuvenated and mind clear. Like in Chicago, I could briefly imagine myself free of all other obligations, just being out there in the moment.
Until my cell phone went off.
For reasons I won’t go into here, it was necessary for me to stop and check what was going on. Fortunately, all was well, and I finished my run refreshed. But to me it’s another example of how our modern world, with all its wonderful technology and creature comforts, comes at a cost to our sense of freedom. Which makes those opportunities where we can really feel “free” so much more precious.