Finding Mindfulness in Running

Like most people, my relationship with running has changed over time.

I first fell in love with running when I was 12. I ran every day that I could and wore out my running path like the playlist I repeated on my iPod. It was a straight two-mile shot down Lincoln Street to get to Evanston’s lakefront. I never timed myself and I didn’t think about my performance - I just ran.

Once I got to the lake, I always stopped to take in the view. The lakefront’s path wrapped around Northwestern University’s campus, and in the background, Chicago’ skyline outlined the horizon. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that I loved this ritual because I found stillness through movement. It was simple, free, and it felt amazing.

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In high school, I joined the cross country team. I was nervous that my simplistic approach to running would not align with the sport. However, I finished in second place for my first two mile race. Although I loved being a part of the running community, I always felt like an imposter because I never wore a watch and was never concerned with my times. I just wanted to run.

Towards the end of high school, life began to feel heavier. My family was enduring a difficult time, and it weighed heavily on me. Coincidentally, after a season of underperformance, I found out I had developed bilateral tibial stress fractures. I began to resent my changing body, and took a break from running. That break turned into a year-long hiatus from running, and that resentment morphed into debilitating low self-esteem.

When I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan for college, I knew I had to take steps to heal. I joined a vinyasa yoga studio and started going to classes every day. With each class, I returned to that place I cherished by the lake front. Once again, I found stillness through movement. I began to cultivate a practice of mindfulness that transcended every area of my life. I adopted a plant-based lifestyle and involved myself with community service and social justice organizations.

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After several months of solely practicing yoga, I worked up the courage to go on a run. I started by running and walking, and slowly but surely I started running twenty-five miles a week. I fell in love with running again.  This time, I had a newfound sense of gratitude for my body and all of its capabilities. I ran throughout college, but was still intimidated to join a running group.

In 2016, I moved to Harlem to attend Columbia University School of Nursing. I discovered Harlem Run on Instagram, and was instantly drawn to its emphasis on community, activism, and empowerment. My first experience at a Monday night run was electric. The people were so kind, fun, and supportive. It was the first time that my personal running philosophy felt at home in a community of runners. It was only fitting that I first get to know Harlem in this way.

The familiar feeling of feet on pavement, instead of leading to Lake Michigan, joined others in winding through the streets of New York City. I realized that running with people who have shared values and goals affected my running experience in a profound way. After a year of running with Harlem Run, I have shaved off nearly a minute and a half off of my mile time and have felt more confident as a runner than ever before.

Running is still a meditative refuge for me. But now, it is so much more. Thanks to Harlem Run, my relationship with running has changed for the better. I now view it as a vehicle for health promotion, community building, and social change.

- Claire

Amir FigueroaComment