I once tried to fly as a kid and learned the all too painful lesson that I was simply not designed to do it. I was discouraged, but I never let go of the hope that perhaps some day, some way there might be a way to feel the rush and exhilaration of flight sans wings.
Soccer was a huge part of my childhood and there were brief, fleeting moments of exhilaration that felt vaguely similar to what I imagined flight must feel like. Most of these infrequent moments were associated with scoring goals. What ultimately killed my interest in soccer was the infrequency of such moments and a coach who had a real gift for yelling and browbeating.
I also spent many hours of my childhood playing tennis. As was the case with soccer, there were a handful of moments that provided the excitement and rush of flight, but fundamentally tennis always felt like somewhat of an unnatural act as you needed a tool in order to play the sport. Flight required no such tools and I managed to destroy my racket after a particularly disheartening loss.
While I had experienced some degree of 'success' with virtually every sport I tried, none of them really spoke to me. Balls, rackets, bats, gloves, helmets, and all other trappings of most conventional sports eventually lost any kind of hold on me. If I was honest with myself, the moments I enjoyed most as an athlete were associated with the act of running.
Scoring a goal in soccer was often the climax of an all out sprint evading defenders en route to burying the ball in the back of the net. Winning a great point on the tennis court was frequently an exclamation point at the end of an explosive surge from from one side of the court to another.
Only when I effectively jettisoned the aforementioned sports and focused exclusively on the one thing in all of these sports I truly enjoyed did I realize I had found my calling. I had also found the closest thing to flight.
I could cruise at a comfortable speed like a lazy, carefree seagull for hours. I could dive down a steep hill like a hawk closing in quickly on its prey. What I had been seeking all along was right in front of me.
This is not to say running 'always' feels like flying, but in many respects it legitimately IS flying. Take a look at a few photos of runners in full flight and chances are you'll find one where both feet are off the ground simultaneously. Is this not flying?
The fastest (and prettiest) runners out there spend as little time as possible in contact with the ground. Even when they are in contact with the ground, they often 'glide' and never 'plod'. These runners may not be breaking the law of gravity, but perhaps they're bending it a bit.
So, I run because I can't fly. Running may ultimately be a compromise, but flying is for the birds anyway.