2014-2015 Live Deliberately Essay Contest
My cross country coach writes in bold at the bottom of the packet he hands out before each summer, “It’s all about the minutes”. The packet is a calendar with the number of minutes you should run each day in order to prepare for the season. For three years, I religiously followed the packet, wearing a watch every run and turning up my ipod to distract myself from the monotony of a mandatory thirty minutes. For three years, I had also been running the same times in races.
The summer before my senior year, though, disaster struck. I dropped my precious watch and the clasp broke. I had no way to time my runs. How would I prepare for the season? How would I know what was thirty minutes and what was only twenty?
Warily, the first day of summer, combating an exhausting cold, I went for a run. Afraid of the judgement of others on the town bike path, I took to the woods. At first, I felt alright. I knew I was out of shape because I hadn’t run in a few months, but I was able to jog at what I thought was a good clip for a while.
Then, as I crested the hill near the punch bowl in the middle of the woods, my ipod lost the signal of the radio station I was listening to. I was hit by a wave of exhaustion like no other. Without music to spur me on, I had no choice but to walk.
I was mad at myself, disappointed not to start my training off with a good run. In my world of self-hatred, I did not notice until it was too late that I had stepped on something. It was a discarded pair of jeans. I looked over to see a father playing with his daughter in the pond. They were preparing to clamber out of the water and up to the rope swing. I smiled at them, remembering enjoying the same activity with my own family years before. Back then, we would pack a lunch, put on our bathing suits, grab a couple of towels, and make the trek to the pond.
I walked on, meeting a dog that bounded towards me. I scratched behind its ears, reminded of how much my grandparents dog used to scare me. I thought of the truce we had formed once he was no longer twice my size, and my sadness when he passed away the year before.
At that point, I was at the end of the path, headed towards the parking lot. I decided to turn around, though, and walk another loop. I figured I might as well get a little more exercise in, even if I was not running.
On my second loop, I took the earbuds out of my ears. I looked at the trees instead of the ground in front of me. I breathed in the earthy scents and thought how lucky I was to have access to such a beautiful place. Even though my legs no longer ached, I kept walking.
In that moment, I realized that for three years I had been missing out on the beauty around me. All I looked at was my watch, and all I wanted to see was the right number blinking up at me from that screen. I may have gained a lot of stamina from pushing myself to get to that number, but I did not enjoy the experience as much as I thought. Reaching a goal is uplifting in its own right, but life is not just constructing a list of accomplishments. Life is what happens in between those goals.
I never bought a new watch, and I don’t regret that decision. My final cross country season was my best ever. Now, when I run, I see the world around me. I appreciate the beauty of nature and my own experiences, when all I used to appreciate was being done. Instead of anticipating a run so I could watch the seconds tick by, I am excited to see the look of the sun on the trees, or stumble over a pair of pants, left on the ground in favor of a bathing suit.
It’s all about the minutes may be a good motto for races. Human experience, on the other hand, is not about time. It is about being a participant in the world around you.