At the end of 2020, I discovered a running app called Any Distance. Enamored by the design, and as someone who has a relentless need to set lofty goals, I aspired to run a total of three hundred and sixty-five miles over the course of the next year. To me, this felt attainable because when you do the math, it really is completing just one mile per day. One mile, just ten minutes out of my day. As an avid runner, I thought I had set the bar really low for myself and felt an internal pressure to up the ante.
What I didn't account for when setting this goal was that 2021 was going to shape up to be the worst year of my life. I will admit on the record right now that I am an extremely (!) dramatic person, but when I say that this topped 2020 in being the Worst Fucking Year in the World I'm not being hyperbolic.
In February of this year, my sixteen-year-old sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. For the first time ever, and way sooner than I had expected, I had to contend with thoughts of "What if I lose my sibling? How much more time do I have left with her? What if she has to endure chemotherapy and the treatment doesn't work?" The drive home following her first oncology appointment was awful; let me tell you firsthand that there are few things worse than your mother asking you, "Even if it's cancer, it won't kill your sister, right Le?" and you not having a sufficient answer to that question. There is nothing like the deafening silence of an ominous car ride to remind you of your own mortality as well as that of the ones you love.
Truthfully, that month I spent in California is a blur. And if I'm being honest, I think I prefer it this way. I don't need to revisit my mom breaking down in mine and Lexi's arms on a Tuesday afternoon after she saw a framed photo of our entire family together. I don't need to revisit the look on my sister's face as the two of us waited in the common area of Stanford Women's Cancer Center. I don't need to revisit the anger I felt when I looked around that same room and realized that my sister and I were the youngest people there. I don't need to revisit any of it in vivid detail and, quite frankly, I don't want to. I had experienced a few difficult months following my coming out to my parents, but knowing that my family was existing in a constant state of fear and helplessness between February and March was undoubtedly the worst experience of my life.
And then the worst actually happened.
In August of this year, six months after having to grapple with even the thought of losing a sibling, I lost my beautiful, joyous, and kind-hearted brother-in-law, Alan. The phone call I received the night of August 21, 2021 will forever be burned into my memory. Hearing my wife cry about the loss of her twenty-seven-year-old brother is a sound I will never forget. After two minutes of nothing but hearing your loved ones bawl—because, of course, there's nothing you can say to help the situation—I reached out to our pastor and asked Rachel to call Lexi and Lili so that they could pray together. Shortly after, I called my best friend Eric and sobbed for an hour.
So you can imagine, come September 2021, how unmotivated I felt to continue running. It has been difficult to find the will to do anything, much less achieve a goal of running three hundred and sixty-five miles in a year, but I did it! If this feels or sounds self-congratulatory, that's because it is. This year was Traumatic with a capital T, and the fact that I ran a half marathon two weeks after losing my brother-in-law and reached my running goal by the end of the year are two feats I am endlessly proud of.
However, as much pride as I have for accomplishing these goals, I would be remiss to not admit that I need running in my life. Every so often, a close friend asks me how I could enjoy putting my body through the ringer like this, especially when I willingly opt in to half marathons. After hitting my running goal, I reflected on my enjoyment of this sport and it comes down to these two reasons:
- I love doing things by myself and this is a sport that doesn't rely on a team
- As someone who constantly moves at 150mph, running forces me to mentally slow down and focus on nothing but my own thoughts
I started running in high school, and I think I grew to love it because it provided me with the means to, quite literally, run away from my own emotions. But after eight years, I can confidently say that I love running because of precisely that: it forces me to confront my emotions and thoughts without distraction.
So, during my last run of 2021, I spent some time reflecting on a handful of positives from this very long year:
- I produced, directed, and edited my first short film
- I mentored two designers outside of work (Aria was offered a job at a start-up and I secured Chidi a spot for Dialexa EDU)
- I started painting and got really good at it, actually!
- I ran my second half marathon
- I sustained the growth of 86 plants in our front yard
- I started going to therapy again
- I received a promotion at work and went from being an Associate to Senior Associate Product Designer
- I accomplished my goal of running 365 miles
Running enabled me, someone whose restless body is constantly in motion, to sit still with my thoughts and reflect on this rollercoaster of a year. It pulled me out of my slump after my sister’s cancer diagnosis, after we lost my brother-in-law Alan, after life was expected to continue rolling after these horrific traumas. Running didn't save me, but it did help ground me when everything in my life felt so out of my control.
One of my favorite books in the world is “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami, and an excerpt that I enjoy and return to time and time again is:
“As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I’m not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”
Here’s to 400 miles and more introspection in 2022.