This season, VMIKeydets.com returns "Logging Miles", the popular cross country blog that made its debut in 2010. This summer's writers are Cabell Willis and Hannah Dickinson, and the blog is currently scheduled to run approximately once a week until the end of July.
Entry One - Cabell Willis - June 26
It has been six years since I began running seriously, and only five since my first real summer of running before Cross Country my senior year of high school. My journey with running has been one of mountains and valleys. The metaphorical comparison of running to life is perhaps well worn, especially in reflective writing such as this. Yet it would not be so expended, were it not an accurate metaphor. My gradual increase in mileage parallels an increase in the volume and intensity of responsibility and obligation in my daily life: an internship, honors thesis research, postgraduate plans and preparation. More than this, running teaches me to bear these burdens with composure and cheerfulness, knowing that my attitude and effort invested will outweigh the result in the annals of history.
I am a runner, but I am also much more. I run perhaps 46 to 48 weeks out of the year, and compete no more than perhaps two-dozen times in that span. The time and distance invested in so few races almost seems preposterous. Yet there is more to the running I do everyday than preparing for a few peak races in November. This summer, as I take up residence in Washington, DC for an internship through Washington and Lee’s Shepherd Poverty Program in criminal justice and offender restoration, running is my home away from home. It is the same for me from August until May: a brief reprieve from academics and the obligations of the Institute.
For a time, I embraced running as the essential reason and end of my being. But time and mileage has weathered me, hardened me. Experience has transformed my relationship with running. Education has sharpened my mind and attuned me to new conceptualizations of identity, of meaning, of purpose. A little less than three years ago, I arrived at an institution of higher learning that sought to strip its pupils of individuality… such was perhaps the greatest struggle for me in my first semester at the Institute.
Today I have transcended that struggle. I have come to recognize the inevitably collective nature of identity; I am aware of my simultaneously unique, obscure, and composite place in the flow of community, culture, society, life, space and time. VMI helped. That realization, that awareness remains ultimately a product of my own cognitive reflection—a reflection that began perhaps when I was alone in my room as an only child, but truly flowered as my mind floated for sixteen long miles above my bare, sweat-caked shoulders on an evening not unlike this one. Ironically, perhaps, it was running in college that made me realize that I am more than a runner, that my life has purpose and calling beyond covering quickly a given measure of distance under my own steam. VMI has helped shape me into a more holistic human; running helped me rationalize and internalize that change, both directly and inadvertently.
Nonetheless, running remains my escape: it is where I can go to be alone with mother nature or away from the serious cares of the world with my friends. In our common struggle, we revel in the opportunity to play that our youthfulness does not merely afford us, but begs from us. In my solitude, I entertain thoughts and ideas, memories and dreams, reality and fantasy like tennis balls on a practice court. As I continue to write for myself the coming-of-age story that society demands of me, as I continue to meet the academic, professional, intellectual, and personal demands of my life, running offers me my liberty.
Today, I escape the sweltering bustle of morning rush hour in DC on the trails of Rock Creek Park and Georgetown. A few hours later, I too find myself at work, not merely maintaining the whirring cogs of the republic, but peeling away the grease that conceals rust and corrosion in the gears of the criminal justice system. My job is to help those who have paid their debt for violating our social and legal contract return to productive and positive lives in society. Yet the bureaucratic and professional system is flawed, denying these returning citizens ease of reentry to such a productive life: there are no second chances, and so there remains only a risk of recidivism. This flaw is only one of many social problems that exist beyond the safety of my mind, problems that I cannot ignore as a responsible citizen.
Running, on the other hand, is play, pure and simple. It balances out my life and provides a trap door through which I may briefly escape the gravity of such problems. It is where I rationalize and reflect on my day, my purpose, my objectives. I train my body for an hour or two a day to liberate my mind. I strive for a perfection in running that manifests itself not in a time or a medal, but in an experience, a feeling: the feeling of communion with my teammates, the feeling of freedom in the simple solitude of a back country road, the thrill of victory not over another runner, but over myself. All of these feelings are a temporary reunion with a primordial and playful self that my body demands for its sanity, but my society will not yield to for its vanity.