Airman considers, shares actual joy of running

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Justin Theriot
  • 39th Operations Squadron
During my weekday runs, which at this point are four to six miles, I listen to music. These shorter runs pass through and near areas bustling with cars, aircraft and other day-to-day noises. Listening to music, the news or a podcast allows me to drown out these sounds. One morning, an individual stopped me midstride to tell me that wearing headphones while running is not allowed and unsafe. I was furious. There is nothing more frustrating to me than a non-runner telling me what is safe and unsafe.

Runners are often asked why and how we run such long distances. For me, I simply state that running is one of the few things left in our fast-paced world not overtaken by technology. Running allows me to escape reality, to enter a primal state, to let go of everything I know and become one with my environment.

This brings me back to my initial reaction to the individual's statement. While I disagree with his assessment of safety, as it just adds to a laundry list of regulations, I should thank him for inadvertently pointing out how technology has crept into my running. If it was not for his overcautious demeanor, my recent 14-mile run through southern Turkey would have been far less memorable.

During the first five miles of my run, I decided to take off my shirt as it was extremely hot. I thought I could utilize this opportunity to not only work on my tan, but also feel the wind and sun on my chest. This would have been fine if I were living in the U.S.; in Turkey, my idea did not go over very well. The first five miles of my run were along a highway where it felt like many drivers stared as if I was crazy and disrespectful. As I later discovered from a Turkish friend, running without a shirt on here is similar to running naked, especially since many people here generally wear pants rather than shorts.

Around mile five, I turned off the highway to run along a farm road that led me through two small villages. It was at this point I decided to put my shirt back on. The sun was scorching my back, and I was unsure how the villagers would react if I ran through their town shirtless.

Shortly after I put my shirt on, I passed a man and his wife, who was wearing a hijab. Ideologically, I believe in pure freedom; I should be allowed to do what I wish as long as it does not harm others. On this occasion, however, I was glad to have my shirt on. Yes, each of us should be able to make choices based on our own free will, but the lack of respect it would have shown the woman and her husband had I run past in small running shorts and shirtless was not worth practicing my personal freedoms at that moment.

Continuing my run through small villages, I made a quick stop at a shop along the route. I used the little Turkish I know to ask for water.

"Su var ma, lutfen?"

"Evet," answered the shopkeeper as he grabbed me a bottle.

As I reached to pay the man, he stopped me and gestured that the water was on him. I was humbled by his generosity. I saw this generosity a second time as I passed a farming settlement where a small family was brewing a pot of tea and called for me to have a cup with them. Not wanting to stop two hours into my run with tightening legs, I politely declined and we exchanged smiles.

With this run I realized while technology is great, it often limits exposure to the real world.

Would I have noticed everything during my run had my headphones poured music into my ears? Possibly, but I would have missed the little things like the generosity of the villagers. I would have missed the sounds of the workers on the farm picking onions. I would have barely sensed the smell of everything around me because I would have been overloading my auditory senses. Lastly, I would have never heard the call to prayer as I ran past a mosque, nor understood why so many people scurried to enter the building.

We often forget that it is not the tourist destinations that make a place special, but the people within the communities.

Now, when I run I must remember that putting in headphones does not aid me, but hinders my overall experience. Running is not about personal records or boasting mileage and times via social media. It is about being outdoors and one of the few things we can do without any form of technology aiding us - running!