Photo by Kim Parent
It happened at the halfway point of the first race I ever ran, when I heard my mom's voice distinctively echoing from the crowded sidelines, telling me to slow down.
My short legs were somehow running stride for stride with my big brother's, and I gathered from both of their exasperated expressions that they thought I would collapse if I tried to keep up for the full 3.1 miles.
But, I didn't slow down. And much to my (allegedly) supportive family's surprise, I did keep up.
That was it -- the moment, the precise instant, that I fell in love with running.
I don't remember making a conscious decision to run faster, or thinking "okay, now you're going to be a runner," but I do recall the inherent click of my legs making that motion and a subtle chant waging war inside me, saying "you have more."
And I remember listening. Because when it comes down to it, when that voice inside you says "more," it demands to be heard.
It's been eleven years since that race and I've continued to fall in love with running. I'm talking in a head-over-heels kind of way, every single day.
Through jogging hundreds and hundreds of miles, through good races, heart-wrenchingly bad races, and even the occasional stress fracture, running has been like a life-long friend who knows when to take it easy and encourage you, but also knows when to kick your butt.
Running on the varsity cross country team at Miami (yes, it's a legit sport here; no, we don't run marathons or across America) has brought me to a place that small sixth-grade girl could've never fathomed.
As a senior, this is my final cross-country season, and there's something overwhelmingly surreal about that.
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When I think about running and being with my teammates, who fill a part of my soul I never knew I had, I think about what running is truly about, what even that childlike version of myself knew deep down.
Because here's what I know: running isn't really about trophies or perfectly calculated miles or the number on your stopwatch or the six-pack on your stomach.
It's about the air in your lungs, the rush of earth around you, the soft pounding of your feet, the burning of your legs, the flip of your ponytail. It's about the person next to you, matching your stride, propelling you forward with the silent echoes of exhales.
You have this idea of your limit, a number in your head, a big doubtful voice that tells you that you can't go further. And then, somehow, you do.
Running is about hitting your breaking point, and then realizing you're still in one piece. You take a minute off it and you leave it behind.
It's about discovering you're still breathing, and the instantaneous reaction that comes next: wanting more.
It's about the moment you cross the finish line. When your legs slow to a stop and your body crumbles and your eyes halfway close and in between the gulps of oxygen, you look back and realize you just did something incredible.
It's not about what's going on around you, even if that's your mother's worried words. It's about proving to yourself what you're truly made of.
This is the essence of running for me, the reason I get out of bed every morning when my alarm clock sounds at 6:15 a.m. and what keeps me moving forward when every muscle in my body is saying, "please do less."
Every year for the past eleven years, as cross country season rolls in, I'm reminded of the purity of running, of pushing yourself beyond what you think is possible.
Next year though, when the leaves of October hit the ground, I won't be able to lace up my spikes and proudly put on my uniform stitched with that beveled-M. I won't be able to train with my best friends as we watch the sunrise or watch Bridesmaids incessantly as we travel to races. Thinking about that is hard. It's one of those gut-pitting, rimmed with nostalgia, kind of feelings that makes me want to eat ice cream for every meal. It sums up to me desperately wanting more time, one more year, one more season, one more workout with my team, one more "you have more" moment.
All I know to do now is breathe it in and relish every race I have left - to see it as one more shot, one more chance to celebrate all the years, the miles and the immeasurable joy of wanting more.