Dear Running: You Are Beautiful

Madeleine Burns is a Durango senior from Durango, Colorado. She was the 2019 3,200 state champion, and is headed to Princeton University next fall. In her Dear Running essay she shares what running has meant to her over the years. 

Dear Running:

It's easy to fall in love with you.

Tracks glowing under stadium lights, crowds roaring as runners round the last straightaway neck-to-neck, fireworks in the desert night, screaming for teammates until I have no voice left, sweaty hugs after races, smiling team pictures, and speedy times on MileSplit.

While running itself is the opposite of glamorous, the surrounding elements famous invitationals, elite camps, MileSplit social media spotlights​ - promote the sport in an alluring, irresistible light.

Who hasn't dreamed of standing on the NXN or New Balance podium, receiving a Brooks PR invite, or crossing the finish line first at Arcadia or Penn Relays?

And because performance is tied so closely to preparation in this sport, the chance is theoretically there for anyone who is willing to put the effort in. Everyone can dream.

But this year, things are different.

No matter how many winter miles we ran, no matter how well we planned, no matter how fit or hungry or healthy we are, we will not be racing. For those of us who are seniors, we will not be racing again in high school. And though this is heartbreaking, it also provides a chance to step back, to reflect on running as a whole. Because running, you are so much more than racing.

Running, you are beautiful.

Through the clear chilly winter mornings when my breath puffs out in front of me, the serene evenings at Vallecito with the moon rising large above the lake, and the sweet summer days where sun soaks into bare skin, I'm constantly awed by the world around me.

Running provides the privilege to explore its beauty with my own two feet. To pause and soak in the burning blue sky arching overhead, the snow-capped mountains framing the horizon, and the shaded single-track winding through the tall pines ahead of me. Your beauty reminds me to appreciate my surroundings and never take this world for granted.

Running, you are consistent.

Day in and day out, you force me to put the miles in, both on the days when I'm flying and the days when I can barely begin. For the past four years, you've been a constant in my life. Every day after the school bell rang, it was your time. You are a joyous release in happy times, a solid reassurance in stressful ones. No matter what was going on in the world, my daily miles create a chance to step back, slow down (figuratively, of course), and snatch a bit of time for myself. I've come to rely upon the unfailing structure you provide to my life, as well as realize the importance of showing up every day.

Running, you are challenging.

Beyond the races, it's the brutal workouts, grueling long runs, and painfully exhausted days that push me to my limits. But you've taught me to embrace the pain. Instead of a barrier, the obstacles of training are merely an indicator that I'm succeeding in improving myself. Overcoming the challenges of running has given me the confidence that I can take on whatever the world hands me, on or off the oval. You have shown me that no matter how formidable a goal may seem, anything can be accomplished with effort and repetition.

Running, you are inspiring.

You are one of the most raw forms of sport - just an individual and a racecourse​ - and the vulnerability and bravery that this creates never fails to move me. Whether it's rooting for hometown hero Laura Thweatt in the marathon trials or cheering my teammates on to state qualifying times at a last-chance meet, the power of running has brought tears to my eyes over and over. During the season, witnessing the strong performances of teammates and competitors alike constantly drives me to push a little harder, give a little more. You motivate me to seek the best in myself.

Running, you connect me.

Living in rural Colorado has certainly defined my running experience; my memories are comprised of bus rides lasting until 2am (filled with Gucci Gang or Taylor Swift music, or sometimes​ - unfortunately​ - ​both), team trips to Denver shopping malls, pre-meet shakeouts at the top of Wolf Creek Pass (at an elevation of 11,000 ft), camping (yes, the night before races), unplanned stops at hot springs, hotel room shenanigans, and various other adventures unique to Durango (how many other teams can say they've gotten in trouble for putting up hammocks in a minibus?).

While these adventures have certainly formed and strengthened bonds within my team, I believe this sport is also remarkable for the larger community it encompasses. Running together creates a unique kinship. Whether it's lining up on the start alongside girls I've raced for years, workouts in Colorado Springs with competitors turned running partners, or winter long runs with college friends, the running community is simply a vast family connected by a deep-rooted passion for the sport.

Even as I'm typing this, I'm aware that if things had gone to plan, I'd be in Denver right now, aiming for a PR in the 3200 tonight. This knowledge certainly stings. But there is no longer anything we can do about it. So instead, I am focusing on the other side of running. Not the glory of a state title or a PR, but the tiny wins, the life lessons embedded in every mile, the memories that I will treasure forever. Although running culminates in racing, the current pandemic provides a chance to step back and appreciate everything else that running has given me over the last four years.

Thank you, running.

Thank you for the smiles and the tears, the lifelong friendships, the countless adventures, the lessons (both painful and joyful), the races that broke my heart and the ones that filled me with elation.​ Thank you for teaching me to love myself in my best moments and in my worst. Over the past four years, you have given me a debt that I cannot repay.​ Though I may have crossed the finish line of high school competition, I know that you and I are far from done. This is just a bump in the road; we still have a long way to go together, into college and beyond.

In the meantime, see you tomorrow.