Metal clanks, dumbbells drop, echoes fill the gray corridor. It’s June 2018, my first summer break from Temple. At the bicep curl machine, I recollect my expectations of freshman year and brutal reality.
For 15 reps I lift the bar, and at each hoist I tense my biceps. It feels like my max has been 40 lbs for months. Life can be so stagnant—I’m tired of it. At rep 15 I drop the weight, pull out my phone, text Dad. I tell him I’m going to start using Run 5K again.
* * *
Walking to Anderson Hall on my first day at Temple—crowds emanating from Paley Library, flocking left or right past the Bell Tower—my heart thumped, my hands quivered. Where between these people could I squeeze? I scurried to class, my cyan button-up splotched in cold sweat.
There were attempts to make friends of course. But were they fruitful? I had a CLA introduction class and sat next to a girl. She was a part of the Temple marching band, which was cool. I was a writer. But shyness, that old impediment, thwarted every attempt at small talk I tried to make. I couldn’t get past Hi, how are you? That same year I was in a Spanish class with mostly seniors. One, who wanted to be a lawyer, was obsessed with violence and the army. We talked a lot, so I thought friendship was viable. But then he started showing me war videos that were… graphic. Heads-exploding, disentangled-spinal-cord graphic. The acquaintanceship was not sustainable.
* * *
A text sent on a whim became axiomatic to my life. Every Tuesday and Thursday in July I rise early, wash, and trek to my neighborhood track, Germantown Field. I train with Run 5K, an old iOS app I tried in the past. At first, I can only run a few three-minute intervals (between them I take a one-and-a-half-minute walk to catch my breath). But as the weeks tick by I notice my endurance strengthening.
The runs and the exhaustion following are exhilarating. Enthralled with my sport, I begin studying form from YouTube. I learn of the forefoot strike (the preferred landing method since it lessens injuries). I discover one’s hands shouldn’t crisscross the body’s center. I realize that posture, good or bad, plays a big role in the effectiveness of a run. Incidentally, I had scheduled a kinesiology course back in April: Walk/Jog/Run. It’d be elective credits and I suppose I wanted to give myself a break. But having primed myself for stamina, an epiphany strikes me. The class would be an experience.
One morning, when I return from the track, I see my older brother in the kitchen. He says, “Mal, would you want to do the Broad Street Run?” The most populated half marathon in the country. It’s a whopping 10 miles, stretching from North Philly all the way to South. I shake my head and laugh a little. “No. I don’t even know how to run a mile.”
My second year at Temple is far better than the first. I move through crowds with loose hands, an easy smile spread to either cheek. My shoulders sit straight and my head is held high. In my self-actualized state I find new ways to better myself, like taking myself out to explore Center City; buying nice, new clothes; or approaching people to talk instead of waiting to be approached—proud whether successful or not, because I made the effort.
In Walk/Jog/Run my running improves even more. From warm-ups to breathing techniques, Professor Marshall never fails to teach us something new. These skills are useful to acquire. We are always being tested. During a class near the end of the semester, Professor Marshall gives each of us a choice. We could either run laps on the track for thirty minutes, or we could trek to City Hall and back. Although I ran about a mile or two a few times in the class’s duration, I have no idea what will happen once I reach City Hall. What if I pull a muscle and have to stop? What if I become dehydrated and get a cramp? Would my run exacerbate my recovering shin splints? The usual film reel of paranoia and fear plays in my mind, but it is quelled by my excitement. I want to try so bad, so I raise my hand and make my choice. Me and two classmates run to City Hall and back. Four miles, my longest run yet.
* * *
Starting in January 2019, I trained over the course of four months for the Broad Street Run. I attended classes equipped with my book bag and gym gear. When class was over, I would go to the campus track or run to City Hall to practice. Alongside my training, I became a member of the campus clubs Hyphen Literary Magazine and MCPB. These were large leaps from my shy Freshman self. I ran the Broad Street Run with a time of 1:38:40. Now the year is 2020 and I am preparing for a new race. The Atlantic City Rock n’roll 5K. I still face shyness on occasion, but in those moments, I remind myself of my accomplishments. If I can run a race I didn’t think was doable, if I can build confidence within myself, I know the potential for greatness will always be alive within me.