March Great Story by Alex Economou, Central Coast Fellow

Ever since I was little I’ve been a runner. I don’t know why it started, but I like running. I remember being the kid growing up that would wake up before school in 5th grade and go for morning jogs. It started out being a trend where my friends would meet me in the morning at the neighborhood White Hen Pantry (that was back in the days before 7-Eleven acquired them) and we would go for a nice jog, pick up donuts and go to school. That was also back when 5th graders didn’t own cell phones (it’s hard to believe that time period ever existed) and before long, people started bailing on me in the mornings, and I was forced to run solo. I didn’t mind though, I just kept on running. As I got a few years older, I remember being the 12-year-old who got dropped off at the wrong gym on the first day of basketball practice and decided to run the 2 miles across town to the right gym (still no cell phone at that point to call mom). Even when I got to college, my favorite mode of transit was my feet, and it was a usual occurrence to see me running around campus from meeting to class and class to meeting. When you don’t have a car, and you don’t have a bike (turns out Eugene is known for its high bike theft rates) and time is an ever-challenging obstacle, the best way to get from point A to point B is oftentimes by running.

As I got older, I wasn’t the only person that caught on to the fact that I liked to run a lot. My friends clearly didn’t like running as much as I did and it kind of became a running joke (no pun intended) that I was unique in that respect. Every year, we would go on a Spring Break Work Tour trip with our church youth group. We would stay up late every night and then spend the days building homes for people. After the workday, we would head back to our campsite and people would relax and take naps and hang out before dinner. Except me, that was my time to run. This was such a usual occurrence that the running joke started to become “Alex, we just really want to know, what are you running from?”

High School passed and I moved from Illinois to Oregon to continue my education. People would ask me all the time why I wanted to move so far away and sometimes I wondered if it was my way of running away and wanting to start afresh in a new place.

For me, running has always been my place of Zen. It is my daily opportunity to briefly get away from it all and think about everything that is going on in my life. It is my time to introspect and grow both physically and mentally.

I thought that this would be a fitting topic to write about, because I am currently training for the SLO Marathon this May. Over this past weekend, I was doing my long run (a taxing 18 miler through the beautiful back bay of Newport Beach and the UC-Irvine Campus) when I came to an important realization that would make any glass-half-full personality proud. It’s really not a question of what am I running away from, but rather a matter of what am I running towards. I think that this sort of mentality is really applicable for all of our lives. Sure, we’ve all had that traumatic event, that relationship, that job, that we’ve wanted to get away from, but just because you welcome change doesn’t mean that you didn’t like how some things were before as well. On most of the runs I go on, I begin in one place and then loop back and finish up at the same place that I started. Life is the same way for all of us. We have a very cyclical tendency of expanding our limits and comfort zones, and then coming back and applying what we learned to what we already knew, thus propelling us further down the road.

And the great thing about it all, is everybody can move at their own pace. It doesn’t matter if you are sprinting or walking briskly. You are moving towards something.

People often talk about their fears, and I always thought that it was kind of funny that we spend so much time worrying about tangible things like being afraid of spiders, or rollercoasters, or speaking in public. Sure, I have a very tangible fear of being in some sort of crippling accident and never being able to use my legs or run again. But really, in the grand scheme of things, it is my intangible fears that motivate me and guide me along new paths and to new heights. For me, it is what I like to call the quicksand effect; it’s the fear of being stagnant, of not moving at all, of not progressing forward, no matter how bad you want to. I’ve stumbled down the wrong path thousands of times in my life, but I know that as long as I follow my feet and keep moving (both physically and metaphorically) I will never truly be lost.

I wasn’t running from anything then, and I’m not running from something now. But I am running towards something, and I hope that I don’t stop running anytime soon.

“Runs end. Running doesn’t…and unless you are a runner, you wouldn’t understand.” -Anonymous