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 Three - Cabell Willis - July 10
The temperature rises. My mileage follows… slowly but surely.
Running is by no means a glorious sport: there is almost no limelight, and really only the runners of the blue ribbon events—the 100 meter dash and maybe the mile—get the attention they deserve. Even those few short minutes that you compete are but a small fraction of your total volume of training, whether you are running for less than 2 minutes or more than 30. I suppose it is like that for most sports, but when you run anywhere from 70 to 90 miles a week and race for at most 5 to 6 miles, that’s less than 10% of your total weekly training time, and really less than 5% of the total time you spend preparing for that race throughout the year.
Even the training aspect is not always pretty. There are certainly days when I soak up nature and feel at ease with myself: free from the cares of the world. On those days, running is natural. But then there are days when my stomach churns and my legs want to fall off and it is all I can do to cover the ground… cover the ground. 15 miles becomes a long way on a hot summer day… or night.
Since I was a little kid, I have always had a mellow feeling as the sun sets on the Fourth of July and the fireworks pop across the sky. To me, it always seemed like summer was over. By July, I’d been to Boy Scout camp, been to the beach, and reveled in the joy of being free from school for a month or so. All that remained were lazy days of playing golf or relaxing at home… and the growing mix of dread and anticipation of returning to school in August. Later, these lazy days were replaced with long summer mornings conditioning myself for soccer.
Today things are much different, but I still get that mellow feeling this time of the summer. I’ve always had this feeling that good things pass too quickly, and I’m inclined almost out of habit to try and soak up every moment of everyday, as if somehow I could make it pass more slowly or even stop it all together. But I know this is not the case.
My life has changed a lot in the past four years. Now, instead of lazy summer days at home, or days dedicated solely to training, I spend my weekdays at work, keeping up with the news and my reading, pondering deep philosophical questions that linger in the back of my mind, thinking about my future after VMI. My weekends have been filled with time at the river, weddings, camping trips to the beach, and some time with my family. The summer becomes a whirlwind as I juggle preparing for a GRE at the end of the month and researching graduate schools with all of my other summer work and leisure. But I enjoy every minute of it: even when I find myself sleep deprived and overwhelmed, I remember that it will all be worth it at the end of the day... whenever that may come.
That mellow feeling still came this past weekend, but it was different this time. It’s no longer a mellow feeling for something that is ending, for a summer than has reached its peak and is now descending back towards the fall and a return to school. Now it is a mellow feeling for a lost youthful innocence, a peace of mind and freedom from responsibility that I realize I will never have again. At least I can still find some of that peace of mind when I’m running… if it’s a good day. That is one thing that hasn’t changed. The summers come and go. My friends are scattered across the state, the country, and even the world. I have grown up and taken on new challenges and responsibilities in my life. But I am still running.
Entry Two - Hannah Dickinson - July 3
Well, summer training did not get off to an ideal start. After a good first week of training back home, I left for Bolivia for three weeks with VMI’s Engineers Without Borders. We went to install a water line in a village called Pampoyo and conduct health surveys. The plan was to get in as much running down there as possible and then build up when I got back. We were always between 13,000 and 15,000 feet so the air was thin and there was not much oxygen, so training was already going to be tough. Unfortunately, I spent the 2nd night in a Bolivian hospital with altitude sickness and salmonella. I do not think I have ever been so sick in my life or it just could have been the fact that my first night ever in a hospital was in a third-world country. Staying in a tiny clinic where the doctor did not speak English and I did not speak Spanish was quite the adventure. Thank goodness for our translator! Thankfully, the next day I was able to leave the clinic but I was still so weak even walking was a struggle. After a few days, I was finally eating normal amounts and back to my full strength. My first run was quite a shock. Running at 14,000 feet in the Andes Mountains certainly humbled me. Within two minutes, I was breathing heavy, but my body eventually got used to it. I now see why altitude training is so effective.
My time in Bolivia besides the running aspect was amazing. We worked in Pampoyo where their water was contaminated from mining. The contamination was so severe that their llamas would not even drink the water. Last year the club built the water line on one side of the mountain but the part of the village on the other side did not get any water. So for seven days we worked all day carrying, rolling out, laying, threading, and connecting pipe. It was a lot of work but the faces of the villagers when they saw the clean water running into the pipe was priceless. Providing the village with clean water will truly be life changing for them. The team worked so hard we got it done in half the time so we got to spend a week and a half exploring Potosi and La Paz. We even did a silver mining tour, which was scary to say the least. We spent 2 ½ hours underground with the “ceiling” of the mine held up by splintering logs. Our mining guide even thought it’d be cool to light a stick of dynamite while we were down there. I was not thrilled about that but we all survived. I was so excited to see sunlight when the tour finally finished. But it was a good experience seeing the mining lifestyle and how detrimental it is to miners’ health. The three weeks went by so quickly but I was happy to return to the United States where I could drink non-bottled water and always count on a hot shower.
The morning after I came back, I went for a run and felt great. I was definitely nervous due to the fact that training was not ideal in Bolivia but I think the altitude really helped! I’m now on a regular training schedule working on building up to 60 miles per week. The rest of the summer will probably be a lot less exciting than the beginning. But it’ll be great to get in consistent quality training to be ready for the fall cross country season.
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.