I run because I can


Mason Tovani

At the starting line for a half marathon in San Francisco

Month five into the nationwide lockdown was the tipping point of my life. 

From March to July, I would lounge around the house all day in front of the screen. I appreciated the excuse to be lazy, but it would come back to bite me. 

As I moved up to school in August, I could feel the anxiousness and constant worry stick with me. For a few months, I was still practicing the same bad habits, sitting in the house all day with my roommates and expecting to eventually feel great again. 

A normal day for me was waking up and checking my phone first thing in the morning. From there I would be on my phone in the living room or while I ate in the kitchen. I incorporated daily walks into my routine although they weren’t long enough to break a sweat. 

Even when I wasn’t anxious I thought about the times I may be anxious again. I had too much free time on my hands, 16 hours a day were constantly being wasted. 

After a normal checkup with my doctor I got my blood drawn. The blood test indicated that I was low in one major thing: vitamin D, the sun vitamin. Low was an understatement. 

For four months, I was prescribed to take vitamin D pills once a week. 

Looking in the mirror and seeing a pale face staring back at me, I decided to reverse the self inflicted damage of the lockdown after being deprived of sunlight. 

According to Healthline, regular exposure to sunlight reduces depression and helps improve your mental clarity, meaning brain fog decreases. 

I laced up a pair of athletic shoes and went for a run but after a mile I called it quits. 

I listened to myself while running, something I would later learn is a big mistake. Just like in life if you listen to the self-sabotage and the negativity that says you can’t and won’t then you will begin to fear it’s the truth. 

When running it can come down to even one simple phrase that you repeat over and over again that gets you to keep going. Even if it takes some more time to cross that finish line you will have shown yourself you can complete anything you set your mind to. 

As cliche as it sounds.

A few months later, I got my first pair of running shoes and began enjoying the open road with my father, a man who has taken on marathons, IronMans and triathlons. He’s someone I knew wouldn’t let me stop.

 “You can rest when you’re dead,” my dad loves to tell us. 

This always makes me laugh whenever he says it, but I know he is being serious. It’s the foundation of our great relationship, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

As 2021 arrived, I considered myself a “guy who ran,” but not a runner. My New Year’s resolution was to run everyday, even if it was for one mile. 

At first I believed it was my body that would not be ready for the challenge. I learned it was my mind that needed convincing. I found out the hard way that running can hurt your body, challenge your mind and change your soul. 

In November, I ran my first half marathon in San Francisco with my father. I have lived in the East Bay for 20 years, just 40 minutes from the city, and never walked on the Golden Gate Bridge. 

But that was about to change. 

I woke up before sunrise and made it to the starting line before 7 a.m.. I saw a sea of faces all lining up at the starting line, 3,512 to be exact. 

The race immediately had us starting uphill, from there it was flat ground by the docks on the water. By mile three I was working up a sweat, I had dressed warmly preparing for the San Francisco cold.

To my surprise it was sunny, 58 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. No one could’ve asked for better weather. At this point I was running by the ocean front, the waves were crashing against the brick wall and feeling the water hit my face felt refreshing.

The hills that would test my physical and mental strength were on mile four, seven and twelve. However, for the 15 minutes I spent on the Golden Gate Bridge I couldn’t focus on my legs getting heavier or the people ahead of me. 

I was in awe as I looked out across the water, seeing historic landmarks such as Angel Island and Alcatraz. Most days the fog covers them up, or I’m too busy paying attention to the traffic ahead of me that I never bother to turn my head. 

Overlooking the bay off the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Mason Tovani

There’s a quote that says, “we run because we can.” In the beginning of this journey I couldn’t tell you why the feeling of your knees and ankles pounding on the concrete was a thing people did for fun, or why running up a hill on mile 12 just before the finish line was painful yet exhilarating. 

Almost one year and 850 miles later — I think I can answer that question. 

I used to listen to myself, that is what caused my anxious state of mind. When running, you have to talk to yourself. You have to tell yourself that you can rest at the finish line. It is the same when you work out; When you feel like stopping, do three more reps. 

My body wanted to stop at mile 10, and truth be told I considered it. I began feeling the after effects of the hills I ran, but that just meant I had to go three more miles until I really needed to stop. 

Mental toughness is what I have gained from this experience. Something I lacked my entire life. I played competitive soccer until my senior year of high school, I blamed my stature and size for anything that didn’t go my way.

Only now I’ve come to realize I didn’t want to succeed and improve enough for myself. Running changed that poor mentality and outlook on life. 

Motivation only brought me so far, I was motivated on the days I wanted to set a personal record in time for five miles. However, everyday can’t be a personal best. 

That wasn’t what got me out on days where it’s 100 degrees or when it is storming outside. It was discipline.

Motivation brought me to what I thought was my breaking point, discipline showed me that I wasn’t even close to it. Not only has running made me mentally stronger, but it brought back that competitive edge I lost after not being involved in sports for a few years. 

A good friend of mine runs most days as well, when I see that he goes six miles, I have to go seven. Even checking into the race the day before I began looking around thinking to myself, “there’s no way I’m letting that person finish before me.” 

I encourage anyone who wants to take on running to see it all the way through. If I didn’t, I would be the same anxious person I was a year ago. 

It’s important to remind yourself that life comes from you, not at you. 

Mason Tovani can be reached at [email protected] or @masonmtovani on Twitter.