Most of the time, I prefer to travel slowly (sometimes to the extent where my family starts to get worried whether I've misinterpreted the world 'travel' to mean something more like 'live.' 'For good.')
But on occasion I also like to travel very fast -- as quickly as my two feet can carry me. Running has become an integral part of how I travel and adjust to new places. Matt Inman of The Oatmeal got it right when he wrote, "I run very fast because I desperately want to stand still. I run to seek a void...when I run, the world grows quiet." I'm not the world's best distance runner, but over time I've learned to accept it as part of my day -- and now I crave that clarity of sprinting down a new road and having to decide immediately whether to continue left or right. I'm no longer a passive observer in a new landscape. I'm a living, breathing participant, creating my path through the world as I go.
What I look forward to most, however, is traveling to participate in road races.
Maybe you eat 5Ks for afternoon snacks, but there's undoubtedly someone who never imagined they could make it to the end a few months ago. When you're running a road race, you're always in the presence of someone accomplishing their dream.
Often it's not about what you're doing, but just the fact that you're a little part of one body, one beating, sweating heart that adds up to the stimulus that people need to accomplish that dream. And for a few hours, this huge, live organism that courses through a city's streets is made up of the people you'd otherwise never meet. For a few hours, you're all in this together.
And yes -- runners can be annoying. They preen. They tack up little 26.2 or 13.1 stickers on their cars and water bottles in self-congratulation (guilty as charged). They feel passionately about spinach salads. But who cares? Running takes guts. And it's not exclusive.
Rather, running is something that transcends cultural boundaries. It makes us vulnerable. It makes us humble looking at the road that stretches out before us -- wherever that street is, be it smoothly paved, riddled with potholes, or just a relatively-flat portion or a small spit of land. But it's also an investment in our future. Waking up early, lacing up sneakers, and heading out the door at sunrise to join the 6AM regular crowd makes us respect each other as we work together toward a healthier world. We love the way running makes us feel, but we also love the fact that we're not alone.
When I was living in Panama City, I woke up early before work and headed out to the Cinta Costera, a well-maintained three-mile stretch along the coast. As the city rapidly modernizes, and much of the population is connected to a global conversation on health and wellness, exercise is becoming an addiction. When I was struggling to learn Spanish, and finding it frustrating to express myself in a way that felt true to my personality (hello, terrible jokes), running felt like a way to show Panama who I was. It was a way to show the city we shared the same passion. Yeah, a smile transcends cultural boundaries. But you know what's better? That casual thumbs-up you get from a lady sitting on a park bench as you schlep your tired self past. You earned that thumbs-up.
You deserve to be there, because you're making it a better place.
PS. Want more inspiration on why running makes the world a better place? Here's May El-Khalil, Founder of the Beirut Marathon, with her TED Global Talk, Making Peace is a Marathon: