Vol 11, Issue 11
I have recently taken up long distance running. This is hilarious to the people who know me best, given my total lack of any kind of athletic ability. But it is funny how 1km can turn into 2km, and then 5km, and then 10km, 15km … and now I am training for a half-marathon. Things kind of snowball. This is similar to how I articulate my pathway into the JD when people ask me how I got here. I wanted to be a secondary school teacher, but I sat the LSAT as a backup, somehow got accepted and then just went along with it. Three years and five months later, I am nearing the end of this hard-fought degree.
There are a lot of parallels between long distance running and studying law. Running has quite an introspective quality to it. But my reflection has also been prompted by reading Haruki Murakami’s running memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
When I first started running, everything was difficult. I was using muscles and energy I had never previously accessed. My pace was slow and I struggled to reach small distances. Being a die-hard perfectionist, this was a confronting challenge. Surely, with the right runners, GPS watch and determination you should be able to smash 10km in no time at all. This initial disappointment was compounded by the fact that I also found the act of running quite unpleasant. With every step my body screamed ‘please stop’. I was bored, tired and could think of nothing but my discomfort when I ran. At this point, I was certainly not employing Murakami’s ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ mantra.
Suddenly, I started reaching target goals. Running 5km. Running 5km not slow, but not fast. Running 5km moderately fast. Running 10km. Doing my first proper race … and so on. These achievements were sometimes short lived. In a world of ‘use it or lose it’, abstaining for long periods could unravel weeks of effort. This was particularly pertinent for me, given that my best running quality is mental stamina rather than sheer physical aptitude. These ebbs and flows were frustrating as the perfectionist in me strives for total control and stability in all areas of my life.
For me, contained within one single run is a whole range of emotions. I am usually excited to get out the door, but when I do and begin, I immediately cannot contemplate running for more than a kilometre. This lack of belief in myself usually subsides by the 2.5km mark, where I start to settle in on a preferred pace. At about 6km, my legs begrudgingly accept that they are in for a long run. Sometimes I am pelted with rain and hail. Past 10km though, I find myself calm and focused. Running can have quite a mindful, meditative quality to it. All that matters is placing one foot in front of the other.
When I first started law, everything was difficult. Coming from an undergraduate degree where you think you are pretty capable — the inevitable slap down that is your first poor mark can be hard to swallow. But you pick yourself up and try again. 24 times to be exact. Just as in childbirth, the mind and body have a cruel, but necessary, way of making you forget the pain of exams (or races) — so that you do it all over again the next semester.
I started reaching goals in law. But these were haphazard, and often short lived. Like my earlier runs, whose success may have depended on the sun, rain, wind or temperature — my law grades too seemed to be guided by random external factors over which I had no control. Windy with a chance of afternoon sun? H1. Morning mist with showers developing? H3.
The range of emotions I have experienced in law is profound. The highs and lows have been stark, sometimes within days of each other and always unexpected. Since the beginning of my third year, however, I feel as if I entered the final stretch in this long, unrelenting race. Even now, in my last semester, there is a peace in accepting that you have done all you can. I am going through the motions of exam preparation — but without the frenetic behaviour that usually accompanies it.
In the office of my physiotherapist — who, strangely enough, I see not because of injuries from running, but from neck injuries sustained from 6 years hunched at a desk — there is a sun-faded, framed picture of champion runner Steve Moneghetti, in a style not dissimilar to cheesy office inspirational posters. When running, it says, there is a beginning, a middle, and another beginning. Whether or not this quote is actually attributable to Moneghetti is debatable but beside the point.
I am currently running towards the finish line of this degree. But although law, like running, appears to be a solitary activity — in truth, it is far from that. Like I am lucky that my sister came and cheered me on in the cold and rain, I am fortunate to have been surrounded by supportive friends, family and professors throughout the JD. I am grateful for stumbling into this degree — for the opportunities it has given, and the (often hard) lessons it has taught. I am not going to win any running races. Just like I am not going to be awarded the Supreme Court Prize. As Murakami says, ‘Nobody's going to win all the time. On the highway of life you can't always be in the fast lane’. That is absolutely fine by me. Everyone who has, or will, graduate this degree should be simply proud for making it through.
Stephanie McHugh is a second-year JD student
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