AK Freeland MFA '20: Poet On The Run
You aren’t poor, you are burning calories only to replace them,
Creating fatigue because you have it to spare.
Your strength is great, but your depletion is contrived.
— AK Freeland MFA ‘20, from “How To Run A Marathon”
For the majority of those who compete in endurance sports, the goal is not to win. The goal is to test the limits of the human body, to complete a challenge, to conquer physical and mental barriers.
In the case of AK Freeland MFA '20, her love of running began with a trip to The Gap.
Freeland was in search of a pair of jeans after giving birth to her sons, Hal and Arthur. The pants didn’t fit the way she would have wanted.
“In the dressing room in The Gap, I wrote down ‘Google half marathons.’ And so I Googled it and found a half marathon,” Freeland said. “I had run a little bit in my 20s but I thought a half marathon would be a fun goal, something new.”
That was in 2006. Within a year, Freeland had not only run the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville but also the New York City Marathon. She also found her passion for distance running that continues to this day.
“I lost track of time while doing it,” she said. “I could run five miles and I couldn’t account for the time. It’s just like when I am doing work that I love. I am not watching the clock. It's the same with running."
Since those first two races, Freeland has run 24 marathons, five ultramarathons (races with a distance greater than 26.2 miles) and numerous half marathons. Her love of running has taken her all over the world, including to South Africa in 2011 for the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon, Comrades.
The 90-kilometer (55.9-mile) race is considered one of the world's most challenging ultras as well. One of the few races that she has competed in with a time limit, Freeland completed Comrades well under the 12-hour cutoff in a time of 10 hours, 8 minutes, 5 seconds.
It was one of the best days of her life. She wears a necklace with a replica charm of her Comrades bronze medal daily.
“It is a celebratory experience,” Freeland said of the atmosphere at Comrades, which is run on a national holiday. “Comrades is the only race that I have run that if you are within the right time frame, it is gauche to finish alone. I was coming in at about 10 hours and there was another guy waiting for me because he was not going to finish alone. So he waited and then we ran through together.”
Freeland is also a finisher of the grueling Grand to Grand, a seven-day self-supported stage race covering 275 kilometers (170.8 miles) on both rims of the Grand Canyon.
Running permeates nearly every part of Freeland’s life. In addition to her regular job as an English instructor at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities, she serves as the director of training groups for the local Fleet Feet Sports franchise in Greenville, South Carolina.
She has also written poetry about her running experiences. One of her poems, “How To Run A Marathon,” was inspired by a workshop on process poems conducted by Ellen Bass as part of Pacific’s Master of Fine Arts In Writing Program.
Do not ask god for help.
She doesn’t care about your elective exhaustion.
Her only surprise is your surprise at your body’s triumph.
Freeland owns a marathon personal best of 3 hours, 34 minutes that she ran at the Richmond Marathon. She ran her 24th marathon, the Big Sur International Marathon, in 2022. These days, Freeland doesn’t run for time. She runs for the experience.
“The fast marathons feel the same because I know how to pace myself,” Freeland said. “My slowest marathon felt exactly the same as my fastest marathon. It’s just when I am fitter, I can do it quicker.”