Discover more from The Half Marathoner
'I want to run, I want to hide...'
Plus races you'll love running in Portsmouth, Yorktown, Grand Canyon, the Texas Hill Country + the Florida Keys
The first time I heard the song “Where The Streets Have No Name,” I was sixteen years old and had just brought home U2’s then-brand-new album The Joshua Tree. We bought vinyl albums in record stores back then — can you imagine the concept?! — and I ended up listening to it for the rest of the afternoon and all night.
There were other songs on the album that caught my ear quickly, like “With Or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” — no doubt because I’d heard them on the radio already. To be honest, though, I wasn’t all that crazy about the song the first few times I listened to it.
But there was something about the lyrics that kept pulling me back in to listen to it, again and again:
I want to run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wanna reach out and touch the flame
I wanna feel sunlight on my face
I see the dust cloud disappear without a trace
I wanna take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name
That feeling of yearning, of reaching for something you can see that’s just beyond your grasp, that’s what the song came to mean for me. As a sixteen-year-old, of course, that was a feeling I was pretty well acquainted with, so to hear it expressed in a way that also held out hope — those lyrics really helped get me through those years.
The reason I bring it up with you today is an article I stumbled across by the great endurance sports writer Matthew Futterman, titled “Can a Mantra Make You Run Faster? This Olympic Medalist Has No Doubt.”
In it, he tells the story of 28-year-old American runner Courtney Frerichs, who won the silver medal in the steeplechase at this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games. A multi-sport college athlete, she helped lead her University of New Mexico cross country team to an NCAA championship.
But in her running career after college, she always felt overshadowed by peers like Emma Coburn — and sometimes felt, after key competitions, that she had “played it too safe instead of running as if the race might be the last of her life,” Futterman writes.
A few years ago, she began to recall the words of her college coach at New Mexico, who used mantras constantly to remind the team that their season was about the journey toward a championship, rather than the championship itself.
“That was really defining for us,” she [told Futterman in an interview]. “We were the favorites but we were never thinking about nationals. We were always thinking about the step we were in.”
Franklin would frequently recite four words to the team: “Expect nothing. Achieve everything.”
Later, when she was preparing for the world championships in the steeplechase, a phrase caught her eye that she couldn’t let go of: “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
Boiling it down to a single word — “fearless,” which she plastered on her wrist with a temporary tattoo, so she could see it whenever she needed to — she repeated the mantra over and over in her preparations for the race. Even when she struggled in workouts, she kept repeating the mantra to herself, silently and out loud.
You can read the rest of her story in the article, but I love reading about someone so obviously successful as Frerichs who still struggles. When she got close to her goal, sometimes she’d succeed, but other times she would falter, battling injuries and recurring self-doubt.
Whenever she did, Frerichs would try to notice the world around her. That’s when a word, a phrase, or a sentence would come across her radar, and a new mantra would be born — and, in turn, help lift her spirits and refocus her energies on the next goal she had in mind.
Even today, that’s what “Streets” does for me. A little over a decade ago, I went through a divorce from my first wife. As new divorcés often do, I started going to the gym again (after a looooong absence). Needless to say, I was decidedly not feeling that I was my best self in those weeks and months.
One of those first days back, I stepped on the treadmill to see if I could do a twenty- or thirty-minute run. All around me were people in tip-top shape, and here I was, in my late thirties, back at fitness square one and trying to figure out where I go from here.
I put my headphones on and found The Joshua Tree in my iPhone, and started listening to those opening chords. It sounded like an orchestra tuning up, and before I knew it I had turned on the treadmill and felt my feet moving. So I kept going.
By the time I reached the last few chiming guitars of the end of the song, I felt like I had taken my first steps in leaving the past behind for good. Finally, I felt like I could step into a new season of life — and that life was full of possibility and potential again. (And I don’t know if I would have found my way there without that song.)
I realize how silly this might sound, but I think there’s a lot more power in our words, and in our thoughts, than we probably realize just walking around in our day-to-day lives.
Have you ever tried a mantra, or a song, or a thought, to help you get through something difficult in your own life? I’d love to hear what your experience has been.
As always, I hope you have an awesome, awesome Wednesday, and that you have (or had!) a great run out there today. Keep in touch and stay safe! 🏃
Races you’ll love running
Portsmouth, England | Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021
Part of a series of running events throughout the year around the United Kingdom that were started by the British Olympic runner Brendan Foster, this race takes place largely along the waterfront of this scenic seaside British city. From the starting line along Clarence Esplanade, next to the Blue Reef Aquarium, runners follow a winding route that sticks close to the coastline, taking them past the Portsmouth historic dockyard, through the University of Portsmouth campus and along the Southsea Common, a beautiful, tree-lined park that looks out onto the ocean.
£46 and up | Sign up here
Yorktown, Va. | Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021
The place where the historic battle that brought an end to the American Revolutionary War took place in 1781 — and would inspire Lin-Manuel Miranda’s now-famous song in his Broadway musical “Hamilton” — is where you’ll run at this race “entirely on the Yorktown Battlefield tour roads, with scenic views of woods, meadows, fields and creeks,” organizers say. Runners will start and finish the out-and-back course at Surrender Field, where the British general Cornwallis finally surrendered his approximately 7,000 British troops to the American and French armies on Oct. 19, 1781. From there, the race winds through tree-covered battlefield areas of Virginia’s Colonial National Historic Park.
$40 and up | Sign up here
Grand Canyon Village, Ariz. | Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021
Both runners and walkers are welcome at this race, which is run in this small resort town about six miles south of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, just outside the park’s entrance. You’ll run along the trails of the Kaibab National Forest, which spans some 1.6 million acres across northern Arizona and is filled with Ponderosa pine trees and hundreds of miles of trails, which you’ll run through at about 6,600 feet above sea level. Part of the race runs over paved multi-use paths, while the rest runs on forest service roads — you can also purchase an entry pass to Grand Canyon National Park when you’re done, and see its jaw-dropping views for yourself.
$100 and up | Sign up here
Liberty Hill, Texas | Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021
Named for the mosaic of people its organizers are encouraging to come out and run — “we're all different sizes, shapes, colors, styles, ages... but when we join together for a common goal, we create a beautiful picture together” — this race on the outskirts of Austin unfolds along the trails at Indian Mound Ranch. You’ll run through open pastures and along bluffs overlooking the San Gabriel River, with plenty of twisty single-track trails through the ranch property. There will be distances for just about every runner — 1-mile, 2-mile, 5K, 10K, 15K, half marathon, full marathon and 50K.
$5 and up | Sign up here
Marathon, Fla. | Saturday, April 2, 2022
Believed to be the only race you can run entirely surrounded by water — in this case, the stretches of ocean that lie between each of the islands in the Florida Keys — this race got its start back in 1982, when the now-famous Seven Mile Bridge opened to traffic for the first time. Now a hugely popular race, its point-to-point route begins near mile marker 43 near Marathon, and then heads west along the bridge toward Little Duck Key. Because local officials close the bridge during the race, you’ll have about an hour and a half to finish it before the bus comes to pick you up. The views are truly spectacular here, however, on the bridge sometimes called the “eighth wonder of the world.”
Registration TBA | Sign up here
Words to run by
“The future is called ‘perhaps,’ which is the only possible thing to call the future. And the important thing is not to allow that to scare you.”
— Tennessee Williams