ELHAM NUMAN/THE VARSITY

I got serious about running last December. I had just gone through a not-so-great breakup and was dealing with the de rigueur exam season stress. I needed an outlet to relieve myself of that negative energy. Fortunately, running was one of the healthier forms of self-medication. I once read that either you’re running to get away from something or you’re lying to yourself; I’ve yet to see much evidence otherwise.

It worked, as much as anything can for that sort of coping, but more importantly — it stuck. Over time, the split times became less embarrassing and the distances became more respectable, until one day, I woke up with a set of unspeakable callouses and strong opinions on the midfoot strike.

Of course, nothing really changed. I run until I’m too tired to keep running. I hope the next time I go a little bit faster or farther than the last time. If I don’t, I get worried that I’ve hit a plateau and it’s all a gradual decline from there ­— that I’m not the special and unique snowflake I’m occasionally delusional enough to believe I might be. It doesn’t matter how far I’ve gone because there is always a voice in the back of my head wondering why I haven’t gone further.

There is a goal, however, at least in the roughest sense of the term. It’s not why you leave the house, but it’s the reason you keep going. It’s reaching the point where your legs feel like they’re disintegrating, your body has decided your other muscles need that last microgram of glucose more than your brain does, and your mind sputters and coasts like an old car.

Whatever still-functioning synapses remain cease to impose rational thought on the world, and suddenly it’s just you, everything else, and unyielding momentum moving into pure, beautiful oblivion. It is fleeting and certainly not worth the effort in any rational sense, but if your brain is wired a certain way, there is nothing better.

Finding your place is difficult at the best of times, and having 40,000-odd undergrads with a reputation for being weirdly cold and competitive surrounding you ain’t exactly ideal.

I have been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean’s album Blonde lately. It’s about, among other things, relationships, non-relationships, expectations, and how we respond to them.

I keep coming back to how Frank discusses authenticity. The song “Nikes” uses the idea of counterfeit shoes to critique materialism and the idea of being ‘real.’ “Solo (Reprise)” is a staggering, reeling verse from André 3000 about his disillusionment with fame, as he finds himself surrounded by more and more inauthenticity. “Be Yourself” is a voicemail left by a childhood friend’s mother for her son before he went off to college, repeating the idea of not trying to be like someone else.

Authenticity is a weird concept. Who goes through four years of university without changing? Who would want to? However, the line between faking it and real change is elusive, and the thought of someone outing you as a fraud is terrifying. I wasn’t a runner, and now I guess I am, unless I’m in the same room as someone who cranks out ultra-marathons or puts up ninetieth percentile times. I have a pile of Nike running gear and I am 70–30 on whether it makes me look like I know what I’m doing or like I’m a complete tool.

Finding your place is difficult at the best of times, and having 40,000-odd undergrads with a reputation for being weirdly cold and competitive surrounding you ain’t exactly ideal.

It took a long time for me to learn this, but you will struggle at times and fail at others, just like everyone else, and that is fine. Take chances, go against your default, follow peculiar suggestions — put yourself out there, and it will be scary until some day it is not, or at least less so.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I have figured my life out, that I’ve solved university or life with this ‘one weird trick’. There are still plenty of days when I’m filled with self-doubt. Yet, if you put in the effort, eventually there will be a payoff.

Run until you are too tired to keep going, and the voice in your head will wonder why you didn’t go further, until eventually, you do. Find something that makes your heart stop and your brain misfire, and keep chasing it.

— Steve Hale

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