"Man versus Mileage"
“Hmm, maybe I should just turn the car around and get pancakes…” This statement often seems to be my mantra of choice the morning of races. As a 24 year old, full-time working professional, I’m technically in total control of my happiness; I do what I want. The decision, then, seems surface level simple: I could put myself through a 5k’s worth of searing muscle pain, or I could ask for extra powdered sugar on my large stack of fluffy goodness.
We hear all the time that on race days, real runners need to be all serious, all the time. Chit-chat is out of the question and smiles—yea, smiles need to be ironed out to a smooth grimace. Runners need to tune out the competition and start fires in trashcans with their eyes. People should mistake you for Rocky, so play along and make appropriate grunting noises when necessary.
But what if you don’t feel like taking on a title role that day? Or if winning is completely out of the question for your abilities? Or, dare I say it, that you just want to run for fun? Are you a real runner then?
Running is not a life or death situation, but somewhere along the line I’ve managed to make it one—and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Like most addicts to the sport—yes, I admit I am an addict—I maintain a love-hate relationship with my all-consuming pastime. I know how sweet the taste of victorious sweat tastes, but I know how bitter the daily battle of man versus mileage can be. For runners of all levels, running seems so much more attractive in its afterglow, once the intervals have been logged and once the finish line has been crossed. Many mornings, though, I find myself on the verge of tears about the sport and contemplate why is it exactly that I run?
I’m going on my ten year anniversary with the roads now, and during that time I have both seriously trained and merely exercised, been an athlete but also a gym rat and cried both happy cries and the most miserable cries of them all. I need a break, both physically and mentally, and my body from every which way is screaming for me to stop at the water fountain or retie my shoe. Like most runners— regardless of my ability and fitness level— the addict in me keeps me running, but running scared to stop and lose the one thing I seemingly have over everyone else.
People are fascinated by concepts beyond their reach, and for your burrito-toting, elevator-to-the-second-floor-taking, couch-groove-making cubicle-mate, the fact that you can even run one mile is certainly a conversation piece. It’s not even about winning to the non-runners—they know you aren’t slated to finish first at the Boston Marathon—, it’s about the lofty concepts of self-control and healthy habit.
Running serves as my “in” and it makes me stand out. I need to be committed 100% in order to satisfy people’s expectations and have reason for them to be in awe of a dedication, level of talent and presence of will power that exceeds anything that they have ever witnessed before. I need to continue running in circles on the track in order to continue running circles in people’s minds—I must be what they know they cannot.
My biggest fear is that I am a selfish runner and based on the words above, I may be just that. Runners like me simply need to get over both themselves and the fear of being unfit. Whether professional, collegiate or recreational, runners overanalyze the undertaking at “foot.” Your boss doesn’t go home at night and wonder what you hit the 400 split in during your workout. Your best friend won’t refuse to see a movie with you because you only ran eight miles today as opposed to the slated ten. Your mother won’t deny you a hug because you came in third during a race you entered as the favorite. No one cares. But you. I promise.
I lace up my shoes each day in fear that a day off means a day soft. If I stop running, if I stop pushing myself, if I stop making the sport my job, I’ll enjoy the rest too much and never take to the track again, right? Obviously wrong. Runners recognize how their fast feet impress their peers, but never internalize their talents. We need a change of scenery along our mental running path: we must run not to satisfy the expectations of those around us, but to satisfy the innate love that we will always have for our self-defining sport. No matter our ability level or relationship to the sport, we need to recognize and trust that our desire as runners is unmatched, our work ethic unique and our talent raw, true and unbridled.
Sometimes we need to be Rocky and show our grit and guts and be all serious, all the time, but we must make sure to do it for the right reasons. Reliance is not the same as passion. I can run myself into the ground each day to maintain a false sense of self and a crutch for conversation, or I can remind myself that the “running me” is truly not the most important “me.” Instead I can simply run for the joy that it brings to both my body and soul, two things that for some innate reason were built to find pure pleasure in moving with speed and ease across great distances. We will never become complacent and we will never stop putting one foot in front of the other as long as running is what makes our worlds go round. Pancakes are such a transient happiness, aren't they? But running, for us true runners, will be forever.