Strava Track Club members are engaged in a wide variety of vocational and other pursuits in addition to their running. Find out more about our team in our new weekly feature, Meet the Team. This week's male athlete is Atlanta, Georgia native, Georgia Tech alum, and current Stanford graduate student, Billy Mateker.
The question I probably get asked the most about running is “Why?” Sometimes it’s from someone I just met, who asks aloud why anyone would want to run a marathon. Other times it’s from my mom, who wonders why I still spend so much time running (immediately followed by “Are you eating enough?” and, more pressingly, “When are you going to get married and give me grandchildren?”). I think it’s a question that a lot of us are asked, and I understand that there are many, many valid responses. Truthfully, “Because I like to” is the only reason anyone should ever need. I’ve put some thought into it, and, though it’s true I run because I like to, I went ahead and asked myself the obvious follow-up question “But why do you like to run?” This is what I came up with, grouped into three main categories (I apologize if the engineer in me is overwhelmingly logical and organized!):
1. Running connects me to myself.
Ok that sounds nonsensical, but let me explain. What I mean is that running helps me stay in tune with myself and be a better individual. I literally feel better physically, mentally, and spiritually when I’m able to get out for a double or run 70 miles a week. Running fast is fun. Racing provides an outlet for my sometimes hypercompetitive personality. The long-term goals of training give me perspective, and the occasional failures (for instance, a DFL at the ACC cross-country meet) keep me resilient. Mostly, the daily accomplishment of going out for a run is empowering. It’s kept me sane through 5 years of grad school (yes, I’m in the 21st grade!). Oh, and the carbs. I love those, and running definitely connects me to those.
2. Running connects me to my surroundings.
Wherever I am, I love going out for an exploratory run! There is no better way to learn a new city or location. Looking back at my Strava heat map reminded me of the fun I’ve had running through Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego, Houston, New Orleans, Washington D.C. and even Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. Closer to home, I like to joke that I know every public bathroom within a 5 mile radius of Stanford campus or my neighborhood in San Jose. But seriously, I know how to get around.
My connection isn’t limited to the streets I run on and the buildings I run by, though I do most of my daily runs on roads and sidewalks. At least once a week I try to hit some trails and reconnect a bit with nature. The Bay Area is simply incredible, and I’m super lucky to live here, as the natural surroundings are beautiful. One of my favorite long runs in the past year was a brutal 18 miler that started in Milbrae. We climbed up to the mountain ridge that separates the Bay from the ocean and were rewarded with panoramic views of the entire Bay to our right and the Pacific Ocean to our left. At the marker where the Spanish explorer Portola supposedly first saw the Bay, I felt like I could imagine the feeling he must have had with such a view. After descending towards Pacifica, we ran a few miles along the ocean before climbing over the ridgeline again and heading home. That type of feeling and scenery make a 2 hour run so worth it.
3. Running connects me to my community
While it’s true that I spend a lot of time running by myself, running connects me to the community in ways I never could imagine. When I see someone running around Stanford or home, my first instinct is to ask myself “Do I know this person?” and, after living here 5 years, the answer is often “Yes!” But the connection runs deeper than superficial recognition. Running connects me to my community in ways that have resulted in both personal gain and personal enrichment.
Even in professional settings completely outside of running, runners have a way of finding each other in the crowd. A couple of years ago, I gave a presentation at a scientific conference in place of my graduate school advisor. As a presenter, I was invited to dinner that evening. I was the only student, as all the other presenters that day were professors. Somehow, within 30 minutes, two professors (one was a department chair at a large university!) and I were swapping college running stories and races we had done! I had an instant connection, and I still see and chat with those two professors at various conferences throughout the year.
Most importantly, running has connected me to some of my best friends and most influential mentors. I’ve literally run thousands of miles with certain individuals, which creates a very strong bond. When I visit Georgia every year over winter break, I run with some of my high school teammates. I lived with one of my college teammates (and later, his fiancée, then wife!) for five of the last seven years, both in Atlanta and California. The morning of their wedding, a bunch of us entered a local 5k to celebrate. My college teammates and I have an ongoing email chain that has now spanned 5 years. And it continues on STC. I’ve gone on spontaneous 10-hour road trips to Oregon, summited mountains in Tahoe, and spent Thanksgiving in Vegas with some of my STC teammates. Post-race beers or brunch after long runs are my favorites (again, back to the carbs!).
So there it is. That’s why I still go on 20-mile long runs. It helps me operate at a high level, keeps me in touch with my surroundings, and, all told, the running community of which I am a part is central to my life. And I’m always happy to see it expand, which is why I’m very excited to partner with Strava this year. Happy running everyone!