HARPER: Born to run

This Saturday, I am planning to participate in Al’s Run for the second time. I’m excited about the race for a number of reasons.

First, every runner gets a T-shirt for participating, which means one more day I won’t have to do laundry.

Second, I recently ran a half-marathon and therefore feel absolutely no obligation to train for Al’s Run.

Finally, my dad, who ran track at Marquette, is running the race with me. Because raising a family and honing his dentistry skills took precedence over running for the past 25 years, I’m confident I can beat him.

Ironically, I never used to like running. It was easily the dumbest form of exercise we learned in elementary school gym class. Unlike basketball, football and the sports I considered “real,”  there were no rules, no objective — besides being fast — and therefore nothing to keep my wandering mind interested. We were just supposed to run.

Unfortunately, God decided to leave me with a preteen’s physical attributes until the age of 17. By that point, I had come to the painful conclusion Big East scouts probably wouldn’t have any interest recruiting me for my ability to quickly get water to my teammates. Running, as dull, pointless and tiresome as it was, seemed like the only way for me to stay in shape.

If I disliked running in high school, however, I hated it when I got to college.

As a freshman, I would begin my runs at McCormick Hall and head along Wisconsin Avenue toward the Milwaukee Art Museum. Along the way, cars honked, middle fingers waved, red lights stopped me and people blew smoke in my face. I decided walking to class would suffice for exercise.

A few considerations made me rethink my position.

When I became a sophomore, stress from a more difficult course load meant I would either have to exercise or lose my mind. I chose the former, but because of my generous unwillingness to go to the Rec Center and embarrass other students with my shockingly huge biceps, I opted to give running another shot.

By this time, I was living in Schroeder Hall, so I ran along Wells Street. This was a welcome change; with less traffic, far more beautiful buildings like City Hall and a good view of the Bronze Fonz, Wells made running a kind of enjoyable study break.

It was my time studying abroad in South Africa, however, that made me finally fall in love with running.

Near the house I stayed at in Cape Town was a forest trail that led to the Rhodes Memorial, a marble building that offered a panoramic view of the city and the Atlantic Ocean.

After the memorial was a path decorated by Table Mountain on one side and the city on the other. The path wound through the University of Cape Town’s beautiful campus and led to a road taking me back to my house.

My experiences teaching in two South African primary schools and interacting with completely unfamiliar cultures gave me a lot to think about, and running gave me a good avenue for thinking.

As I trudged along my chosen route a few times each week, sometimes alone and sometimes with one of my housemates, I would go over my day, think about my family and friends back home and try to draw connections between the various lessons I was learning.

Running was no longer the way I chose to exercise or some task I had to grudgingly accomplish. It was the best method I had for reflecting on what I was going through.

Sometimes, the things we initially like the least can teach us the most.

Of course, it is best to spend our time doing what we enjoy and what makes us happy, but occasionally, it’s worth sticking with something boring or unpleasant to see what it has in store for us. After all, my late growth spurt turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened.

Classic God … always working in mysterious ways.