I was having a pretty heavy conversation at work the other day, and one way or another running came up in some form of life analogy. The person with whom I was speaking asked the simple question “why do you do it?”
Not because I didn’t know what to say, but because a flood of answers were on the tip of my tongue, ready to drown the person sitting in front of me. Of course, holding back that deluge made it incredibly difficult to give a succinct answer. It’s a challenge, explaining what seems like a crazy passion to someone without it. It’s the rare person that wants to hear about a runner’s antics and insight, and I was afraid of not doing justice with the answer I was about to give. So I said the first thing that came to mind, and gave some sterile blurb about how I run because I always have; how it’s one of those rare things I can control most aspects of, but it’s also largely unpredictable; how it lets me see the world in a different way.
All of that was true, but I felt an unscratched itch in those answers. I thought more and more about it and knew that I had to write it down here because I was swimming in the answers, trying to catch water in an effort to articulate. Next year, next race even, I won’t be the exact same runner. It’s always a good time to reflect and immortalize these moment’s thoughts in writing.
So, why do I run?
For the duality of strength and vulnerability, and often finding myself in the interstitial space between these two states of being. It’s the discomfort of that space that can push us to new heights.
I find freedom in flight. Exploring the world on foot gives a unique and unparalleled vantage point. This is true for each of the places I’ve run all over the world, which have been many: from the Mediterranean beaches of Tel Aviv, along the canals of Leiden in the Netherlands, on the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China and many other places in between, all the way back to my own backyard here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Charting a running route is one of the first things I do in preparing to travel to a new place, and sometimes I just wander. It is the hands-down absolute best way to experience a place.
Ownership. My running is mine and I’m protective over it. Don’t come into this world unless you are prepared to get to know the rawest version of me. In the course of one run I might frolick, trip, spit, cuss, glide gracefully, and grimace horribly. I can look like the picture of finesse and poise at one moment, and a few miles later I might look like the bear literally jumped on my back. A race is one of the only times in life when you can be applauded for a ghastly and horrible looking picture of yourself, because it means you owned your race and fought for it. It’s also the place where I carve out time for myself, for self-improvement, or the reach for that, anyways. Through all this I feel empowered to redefine beauty and grace.
It’s the best place to build mental toughness, fortitude, and grit. I like to race. Sometimes I loathe the build up and the pressure I feel, but for the most part I love it and it’s a big reason I run; for the thrill of the race. I love seeing people come out and together for this type of endeavor, and I love to compete. Part of competing is (hopefully) overcoming that voice that creeps in my head to slow down, or give up. It happens more frequently than I like. In the middle of a race or during a really tough training run I sometimes hear it. The almost wishing for a trip and fall, or an excuse to not push it that day. I’ve let goals slip through my fingers, or a competitor run by me and take the win. It’s what happens after these moments that matters. The picking yourself up and overcoming. The not letting it define you as a runner and taking that voice down during the next race or run.
For the tribe and community, the sense of belonging and shared experience through hard work, pain, and accomplishment.
Because we are born to move this way. We are a nation, and increasingly a world, riddled with disease and impairment of our own making, largely because we stopped moving this way. A prominent portion of our culture is too interested in a fast-food, sugar-packet lifestyle, chasing easy wins and instant gratification. Running is immune to these shiny, glittery distractions. Running is a great equalizer, because you can’t buy, coerce, negotiate, smooth-talk or otherwise come by it easily. It takes grit, determination, persistence and planning. It is the greatest life teacher you will ever have and only those willing to do the hard work are rewarded.
It’s taught me to focus on the process, and not just the end product. We’re talking about molding the human body here, and this is a fluctuating, messy, and often unpredictable endeavor. When I was young I used to care so much about the outcome of a given race, I would be nauseous beforehand. Since then, I’ve learned to increasingly value the process of training and striving, and that there is beauty in the breakdown of ourselves as we build up.
And if all that’s not enough, you get a rocking booty and toned legs. Win-win.
So I like to turn that question on it’s head, and next time I’ll respond, why don’t you run?