"Why do I run?" is a question I would only ask when I’m not running, because running usually looks a lot different when you’re not doing it. So I prefer the question, “Why am I running?”
That has occurred to me many times in the year since I started. It appeared during most of my first half-mile runs when all I wanted to do was stop. The question continued to follow throughout my first full mile, and then my second.
As my times and distances got better, winter set in, and “Why am I running?” trailed me on those dark morning runs where ice formed on my eyelashes and air froze in my throat.
Now that spring is here, I spend more time running every week, and the question still seeps up daily from under the exhaustion of my fourth and fifth mile.
And now I suspect that the question “Why am I running?” will never leave me for as long as I run.
But I prefer that question because, in the midst of a run, I also know the answer. All runners do. Running keeps us moving forward.
Literally, of course, running is about moving forward. No matter how slowly I go (and I sometimes get mistaken for a living statue), I move my feet and finish the run.
But running goes deeper than just physical progress. At the time I started, I was unemployed, unsure of myself, and drifting. I started running and kept running because I recognized that no matter how slow or exhausting, running represented what I lacked in so many other parts of my life: moving forward.
Since I could not always control my forward momentum elsewhere, I ran to make my own progress. I clung to my new ritual, and the question “Why am I running?” was answered in the catharsis of that next step, and then the next.
Even on days when nothing else went right, I went to sleep knowing that my odometer had ticked up a few more miles. And since I’d moved forward with running, I was able to move forward with other parts of my life, too.
So why do I run? On any given day, there’s a different answer. Mostly, though, I keep running to discover where I’m going next.