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What the World Championships in Athletics Taught Me About Running









AAlong the Willamette River in Eugene, Oregon, during the World Championships in Athletics last month, a runner covered 2.45 miles in 31 minutes and 22 seconds, at an average pace of 12:46 per mile. When the runner crossed the finish line - a crack in the pavement in front of her hotel - she screamed and smiled as she walked to catch her breath. Clearly, this runner was not one of the elite athletes competing nearby at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field. The runner was me.

This accomplishment felt very fulfilling because since coming to Eugene to attend the championships as part of a Nike-hosted media group, I have asked myself questions: Am I really a runner? Being surrounded by some of the best sprinters in the world, as well as memorials and memorabilia dedicated to the sport of running (Eugene, aka "Track Town, USA", is also where Nike was founded) has caused a kind of identity crisis in me.

After all, I had only started running at the start of the pandemic, and I was just beginning to get back into it after suffering an ankle injury earlier this year. I hadn't even gone three miles yet. I had all of this in mind during a running shoe fit, which may explain why I shared where I was on my own running journey at the fitting specialist.

"It doesn't matter if you finish a mile or a marathon, the feeling of accomplishment is always the same," they said.

"I guess," I replied as we took my new sneakers for a test drive.

It's not the first time I've heard this - it's a sentiment that Coach Bennet, the narrator of the Nike Run Club guided runs I usually bring home, often echoes. But perhaps it was a reminder I needed to hear before I watched the sprinters, hurdlers and steeplechasers achieve jaw-dropping feats in the championship the next day.

My races, I realized, were about the experience of the race, not the finish line (or the time).

The race that has stood out to me the most is by far the women's 5,000 metres, the 5 km. It was a distance I ran frequently, so I had some context for what they were doing. But these women ran a 5k in less than 15 minutes, which means they were almost three times faster than me. They looked so powerful. How the hell could we do that? It was impossible not to compare myself, even though women who race on the track optimize every aspect of their lives to run so fast. But then, I realized to my surprise, I wasn't envious. No, I didn't need to go any faster. No, I didn't need to "train". I just needed to run.

I thought back to my run along the river the day before. I had covered less distance in so much more time than professional athletes crushing the 5K. But I had also watched a dog play in the river, savored the time I could run in the shade, felt the breeze on my face, explored a new city. My races, I realized, were about the experience of the race, not the finish line (or the time). And while I cared about my pace and my performance, that didn't define whether I had a good race. That's the joy of a hobby, I guess. Pleasure is accomplishment.

What professional runners do is incredible, inspiring, the embodiment of all that the human body can do when pushed to its limits. Now I know I can appreciate that, without having to feel bad about my own sport. In fact, I feel even better. I remember during that Eugene race feeling a thrill of excitement: Hey, I'm running in the same place as the best runners in the world. How cool! I hope I can always keep this appreciation for the athletes. They'll do them, and I'll do me.





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