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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

NMU CARES — President Brock Tessman shares his feelings on the universitys new CARE Team. Photo Courtesy of Northern Michigan University
Letter to the Editor — Our New CARE Team
Brock Tessman February 23, 2024

Running: not really cocktail conversation

I don’t talk about running when I’m at parties. It always ends up provoking some stupid joke from the cheap seats about only running when something is chasing you. Running isn’t something you wrap your head around until you’re there yourself, until you’re several miles into it and your head clears. That’s when you “get” running.

Andy Frakes

Like many other young people, I’ve gone through phases searching for my own identity. I’ve narrowed myself down to being a guitarist, a snowboarder, a triathlete, a road cyclist, a writer and a photographer. But the one thing that I return to, more than anything, is running. There’s a clarative power to those first moments of settling into a rhythm, when your breathing and stride match up and you really get a feel for how fast you can go today.

Speaking of today, other than having some knee trouble, I’m good for a 5:30 mile and sometimes faster. Ten-mile runs are taxing but I can handle them. In the beginning, though, I was slow. My first race was almost eight years ago and during that first race I walked as much as I ran. It took me just shy of 30 minutes to complete the 5k course which basically means I “ran” ten-minute miles. I came in second-to-last place in a large field of junior-varsity runners.

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I returned the following year and ran the same course; not walking, but running as fast as I could manage, in 23 minutes. I had lost my extra pounds and I was still soft, still undeveloped, but I was changing and improving with each week of practice.

I learned, through the transition from average-joe to endurance junkie, that the best way to build myself was to focus more on my body’s capabilities and less on its looks. It became important to keep my body long and lean; this wasn’t because I wanted to look like a beanpole, it was so I could churn out a fast sprint at the end of a hilly race. My teammates, who ended up being some of my closest friends, were all on the same page.

Becoming an athlete through an outpouring of sweat is a process that, along with aerobic capacity and endurance, grows a feeling of empathy for anyone out breaking a sweat Sunday morning. I was initiated into a family in which every member knows the pains of delayed-onset muscle soreness, sweat-stung eyes, blisters and a conscious avoidance of refined carbohydrates.

By the time I graduated high school I even ran my way onto the varsity squad enough times to earn my letter as a senior. I had begun racing triathlons and entering 5k and 10k races outside of the normal season, sometimes to chastisement from my coach. I couldn’t get enough.

One of my concerns when I finished high school was that I would deeply miss the team dynamic of cross country. I do. Another thing I worried about was gaining the dreaded “freshman 15,” since I wouldn’t have the structure and supervision of a season schedule, or a coach yelling split times across the track. It would be solo miles for me.

However, I came to understand that I had more than enough dedication to maintain my waistline and use running for things other than winning medals. I began going on more runs to decompress; after a long day in classes or studying for a four-hour block in the library, five miles of fresh air starts to sound more like a vacation than a chore.

So, clearly, there are different types of runs. There’s the easy shuffle through the trees on a hard-packed dirt trail, enjoying the sounds of birds and rustling leaves or maybe some Bon Iver if one is so inclined. There are the anger-fueled breakout runs when nothing else will clear your head. Some runs have a set plan, with every quarter-mile accounted for and every half-minute attended to; some runs, I leave my watch at home and just run for the sake of running. For the sake of absorbing sunshine. For the sake of falling asleep faster when I finally go to bed that night.

Just like there are different runs, and different runners, there are multiple facets to keeping yourself healthy for the sport. It takes discipline and dedication to go out and log miles on rainy days or when you’re feeling lazy. It takes just as much discipline, though, to not run when you shouldn’t.

When you’re injured or sick, or when you’ve reached your maximum number of miles for the week and grow restless with the afternoon, it’s still tempting to get out and jog. “Just a few miles,” you say to yourself, to your debilitating cough, to your swollen knee.

But part of becoming a better runner is knowing when to stay on the couch and rest. There are also occasions to tape the arch of your foot and take painkillers, checking that little box and saying “Yeah, I ran today.” These things bundle together and become the arsenal of the experienced runner.

Running has imparted a lot of knowledge to me, both introspectively (getting to know my own anatomy and physical needs as an athlete) and otherwise. I learned a lot by reading Runner’s World and listening to coaches, to be sure. But the wisdom, such as being patient with injuries and getting enough hours of sleep and calories for breakfast, has been gained through years of trial and error, in a way that can’t easily be taught to a stubborn mind.

It’s the difference between consulting your car’s owner’s manual, and knowing exactly where to stick your hand to reach the oil filter. You just have to figure some things out yourself.

So now, reflecting on eight-plus years of meets and races and getting lost on trails (my running ability improved leaps and bounds, my sense of direction not so much) it’s easy for me to say that I wouldn’t be the same person if I’d never jumped into the sport of running.

I can’t imagine not owning running shoes; nor can I imagine going the rest of my life without feeling my heart in my throat at the end of a hard race.

It’s become an integral part of who I am and who I will always be.

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