Or: What brings you joy?
One thing I love about being in the military is the fact that you can do sports whenever you want (unless there’s something that needs to be done immediately). And I love sports – well, not too much soccer, but I love running. When I was in high school I wasn’t really sporty and actually I don’t know how my attitude towards physical activity changed, but it did over time. In the US I started going to the gym on a daily basis to balance out the intense college learning. I’m not a big fan of working out anymore, you’ll see me in the gym maybe twice a week; however, I love running.
In South Africa where the days were dominated by lectures, studying and practical field studies, there wasn’t much time to myself. After dinner (most of the time a delicious braai) I had to study and you wanted to socialize with the other folks as well.
The beginning of running
So one day when my body told me to get up an hour before my alarm would have told me, I decided to follow my senses. It was probably 5am, but the first rays of sunshine were already playing with the little bit of dew on the leaves in front of my window. That day was the first time I actively decided to go running! At 5am! By myself! Without anybody having told me to do so!
I still remember how exciting this run was: For the field guide training we were accommodated in small brick huts spread out in an open forest area around the lecture room (a one-room house with a huge roofed terrace for when it was simply to hot inside). So I put on my running shoes (well, I bet they were probably just some kind of sneakers at that point) and started running. Leaving the little village-like complex and the light forest I came to an open savanna with a small path through the knee-high grass. It wasn’t more than a few hundred meters when I saw the gras moving rapidly a few yards to my side – a warthog family! As a soon-to-be field guide warthogs were nothing new to me, but being so close to them before the sun raised completely without anybody else was an experience that I still didn’t forget. Of course they disappeared way too fast to realize what was happening.
With every next run in the morning I got more open to see what all was going on around me; the distinct call of leopards in the far distance, the spikes of porcupines all along the path, little scorpions creeping over sandy roads, even a cobra basking in the first sun rays!
I’m not in South Africa anymore, but I still go running. When I moved to Washington I lived in a huge, very old house by myself for the first weeks. A new country (I’ve been to the US before, but not all by myself where I didn’t know anybody), a new part of life, nobody I knew, and than this house which felt too alive to myself. Needless to say I was slightly scared (or let’s call it scared). So before the first night (which I spent on a hardwood floor and a blanket because I didn’t have a bed yet) I went running to clear my mind.
I discovered the Old Town of Tacoma, WA – a town that I fell in love with quite fast. Located right at the Puget Sound there are amazing options for going running. With the waterfront to your side or through an older suburban area made up of huge houses with even bigger, colorful gardens.
But I didn’t stop going running when my housemates moved in. Over the next year I expanded my daily round and one cold day in January I ran my first marathon! It started like every other run, when the first snow flakes fell from the afternoon sky. I remember that I was wearing a beanie so I decided to keep on running. After completing a round trip of roughly 8miles twice I thought: Why not continuing until I have the magical 42.something kilometers. And so I did. It took me over four hours, but I’ve never trained for it. The next weeks my legs were hell of sore and I didn’t go running for weeks!
It didn’t stop me from going running however. Going running gives me a feeling that is hard to describe with words. It is exhausting and sometimes painful, but it pays back. I feel like everything is possible when having my running shoes on. Not because I have magic powers, but because it makes me realize that life itself is pretty amazing and that you should praise those little moments, as they occur all the time.
The last three months I had a military training which was rather exhausting – physically and mentally. I didn’t take the time to go running and my thoughts were wondering – I didn’t really know how I am or rather what I wanted.
This is my second week after the training in my unit again and I went running every day – not too far, between 3 and 10 miles. And I am feeling so much better! Today when I went out for a run with my buddy it made me realize once again how happy one can be just living and indulging in the moment. We were sweating like crazy – it was hot and humid – but the joy I got out of it is way more valuable than the little pain involved in getting there!
What brings you joy? True joy?