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Just Run With It by Emad T. '14

Never waste inspiration, even if you're running with it for the first time (in years)

This year’s commencement speaker, Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy and MIT alumnus, touched upon many compelling anecdotes and much advice in his remarks to MIT’s newest graduates. The whole speech is definitely worth a read (and worth watching), but I wanted to highlight something that touched me profoundly:

One of my roommates when I was two years out of college, who had formerly been a bit of a track star at MIT, and I had finished watching Chariots of Fire one night at 2 a.m. I told him that it made me feel like running. He simply told me “Don’t waste inspiration.” I reminded him that it is 2 a.m. He said “so what; don’t waste inspiration.” I looked at him for a few seconds and realized that he was dead serious. I jumped off the couch, threw on my running shoes and took to the streets.

— Salman Khan, in his commencement address to the MIT Class of 2012

As I read the remarks, I reflected on the truth that I found in his address, and the truth that I found in those specific words that I quoted.

See, I used to run. (Used to.)

It was back in my freshman year of high school, after I had fixed my eating habits to lose weight. What was still missing for me, though, was physical fitness. At some point, and almost on a whim, I wanted to fix that. I thus turned to my runner friends, many of whom ran year-round – from cross country, indoor and outdoor track during the school year, to off-season training in the intervening summer. It was perhaps, then, the best kind of pressure that made me run for my high school’s track team.

Though it culminated in no awards (or even podium-caliber rankings for a single meet), my run with the team was a change I accepted, even grew to love, for a time. Even at a Freshman-Sophomore Invitational I scarcely qualified to compete in, where I came dead last among all the racers in a 400 meter dash, it felt invigorating to know nothing but the race.

Nothing but the wind at my back. Nothing but the orange-red track. Nothing but a sudden explosion of my body – a thrust heel hitting the ground, my toes rolling off, kicking back, bringing me forward, completing the stride, renewing the cycle – as the gun fired. But maybe what I yearned for most was the feeling after each race, when I relished in the flowing endorphins, catching up to me like a tidal wave I had sought to outrun before finally accepting its gift.

After that season, I often looked back and asked what made me give that all up. But all I know – or all my pride would now permit me to say – is that I did stop. Feebly, I mused about having my soles get back in touch with the track – or at the very least, the roads. Each time, I winced at the effort I’d need to put in to be even half as fit as before. In one season I had worked my mile time down from nearly 11 minutes to just under 7. “How would I do that again?” I asked constantly.

My college friends offered to be running buddies, but they couldn’t shake my excuses; I just claimed I didn’t have enough free time for it. Though I believed that statement, I would often find times when I wished I had obliged them. After one of the many long days of sophomore year, for instance, when even 7 hours of sleep, plus roughly that much time spent in lectures, labs, and on p-sets, left me too winded to do anything else but crash as soon as I got home. On such days, I would remember that it used to take a lot more than thinking to tire me out.

Faced with this time and time again, and dissatisfied by the lack of change, I threw out my well-worn excuses and raised the standards on what would pass for an adequate obstacle. Instead of letting justifications or restrictions head me off at the pass, I got to them before they could get to me.

And then, the will to live with more energy and self-satisfaction overcame every barrier to living that sort of life, including the initial, painful investment of energy. I started to envision what I could become with that kind of investment, and I loved what I was seeing. And those negative thoughts, prefixed with that familiar “Yes, but…” nonsense, somehow stood down this time around. I was ready.

Fast forward to earlier this week. It’s Tuesday morning, the day after a taxing first day of work at my summer job.

After having slept for nearly 12 hours, I wake up before 7 – much to my surprise. I had made this the day on which I’d start a Couch to 5K program, my first foray into running in over 5 years, and my first serious effort to win back my old energy. It was a day off from part-time work; I had nowhere to be, and yet here I was, wide awake – and appropriately, eager to hit the ground running. So I started the first day of the regimen.

Nine minutes in, my lungs felt almost acidic. My core protested. Against my will, I paused a timer, suspended my interval training, worked to control my breathing and then rehydrated myself. It happened again roughly 4 minutes later as I transitioned from a run to a walk. I kept the pauses as short as I could, reminding myself that out here, out on the roads again, I was lapping the person I used to be not even a day ago. As I resumed my running, my internal monologue turned that thought into a chant as steady as my heartbeat.

It worked. Somehow I found the strength to power through the remaining intervals, and soon I found myself right outside my house at the end of a cool-down walk. “Excellent,” I thought to myself, “let’s do this again in two days.” And I did – this time, without pausing the clock; this time, without stopping, save for one instance where my shoe became untied.

And somehow, I felt compelled to do it all over – again – for the next day of training. That day was today, by the way, and this morning’s run went just as well, if not better, than the last. I can safely say that this has become a habit now, all because I kept my initial spark of inspiration from being extinguished before it had a chance to burn. Guess that makes me a runner, right?

In that case, then, what I said before is true: I used to run.

I still do – at least now – but I used to, too.