Why I Run
This past week one of my classmates asked me a question that I have often pondered myself: "Why do you run?" And with the Salt Lake City Marathon rolling by this weekend, it seemed like quite a prevalent question to ask. This question has a whole subset of topics to ponder along with it that immediately spring to mind. Why do I endure the pain, the suffering, the occasional feeling that the run will never end, that my legs and feet feel like blocks of lead? For many people the best part of running is when they get to stop, and sometimes I find it hard not to agree. Considering all of this, I had no immediate response to the question that started all of this thinking.
So I decided to try and answer it myself, and am still in the process. I got a good start from the book Once A Runner by John L. Parker, Jr, a novel about a collegiate runner who is on a quest to break the four minute mile and eventually beat the world record holder. And one quote does a lot to sum up my feelings about running, even though I'm not as fast as the miler in the book and am not winning as many races as he is:
He ran not for crypto-religious reasons, but to win races, to cover ground fast. Not only to be better than his fellows, but better than himself. To be faster by a tenth of a second, by an inch, by two feet or two yards than he had been the week or year before. He sought to conquer the physical limitations placed upon him by a three-dimensional world (and if Time is the fourth dimension, that too was his province). If he could conquer the weakness, the cowardice in himself, he would not worry about the rest; it would come. Training was a rite of purification; from it came speed, strength. Racing was a rite of death; from it came knowledge. Such rites demand, if they are to be meaningful at all, a certain amount of time spent precisely on the Red Line, where you can lean over the manicured putting green at the edge of the precipice and see exactly nothing.
Once A Runner
The "better than himself" part is what connected the most with me. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given about running came from athletic director Dan Quin, when he told me that everyone around you in a race is only there to help you beat yourself. And I have found that this is extremely true in my training and racing. When I have to run alone or at the front of a slow pack, my times are nowhere near my best. But when I have someone to chase, someone to change leads with and compete with, I beat my personal records by amounts of time that I had no idea I was capable of. And I'm sure the adrenaline and excitement have something to do with it. Ask anyone who has ever heard the gun go off while toeing the line on a track and they can tell you all about the rush that makes your heart feel like it's going to explode.
But it's not just racing that I love, it's the longer runs too. A very generic quote from Active.com sums up part of the main reason why I love distance running in addition to competing:
While running can be a social activity, it is more frequently an opportunity to spend a little time with yourself and your thoughts, a chance to develop an increased self-awareness. As you become more aware of the nuances and condition of your own body, you also discover things about your inner self.
When not concentrating on a workout, I often find myself the most relaxed I've been all day on a good long run. If I have any problems, I'm not stressing out about if I'm going to solve them, but instead can think about how I'm going to solve them. I've even dared to go into the depths of the meaning of life on long distance runs, one of the most unanswerable questions there is (at least for me).
And after looking at this post, I've noticed that the main reasons that I run aren't the purely physical. I don't run just to stay in shape or improve my cardiovascular system. I run because there's something else there, something that I can't explain no matter how many times I try. Maybe it's because through running I can grow. Lance Armstrong once said something about the pain being immense when he was biking, but when the pain is finally gone, it leaves a space bigger than itself in which you can grow. Or maybe it's something completely different. In that regard, this mysterious aspect of running can be described by the cheesiest but definitely one of the most memorable quotes from Once A Runner:
Running to him was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.
Once A Runner