Why do we run? No one is forcing us. As Christopher McDougall points out in his brilliant book, Born to Run, we no longer need to chase down our food. So why do we do something physically and mentally challenging, and occasionally painful, if we don’t have to? Why not just take it easy?
This was the conversation inside my head early this weekend before the Cherry Blossom 10-mile run in the nation’s capital. In fact, it’s the same conversation I have before any race. Why would anyone in his right mind stress himself out and get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. on a weekend to go for a run?
I spent the first two to three miles of the race observing people and trying to answer that question. From what I saw, some folks run to challenge themselves; some run for others, like the guy in a yellow kilt running for fallen combat soldiers. There was the woman with a picture of her deceased cat on her shirt, and, of course, the group of sickos who run because they actually enjoy it.
Me? Well, I’m another story. It’s taken me many years, several races and 10 miles this weekend to figure it out. The truth is, I hate to run. It’s just a means to an end. I like to race, but I hate to run. It’s a legacy of growing up playing sports, where running was a “have to” and not a “want to.”
Up until my 40th birthday, I had successfully avoided running while slowly turning myself into a “fat and happy,” sedentary “couch potato.” That was until a colleague of mine issued the challenge of entering a sprint triathlon as a way for us to celebrate our 40th birthday (thank you, Patrick).
Since that time, I train regularly and run in various types of endurance races. Along the way, I dropped the 25-lb. bag of potatoes. I’ve gotten into a routine of training, but I hadn’t totally figured out why I continue to enter races until this weekend. Alone with my thoughts for the next hour and half or so, I committed to figuring it out.
I know that I need to pick events that give purpose to my training routine. But the epiphany came at mile 5, when I realized that I think I actually like to scare myself as a reminder not to become complacent or too comfortable again. My approach is to choose events I’ve never done, and to usually do them alone, because it intensifies the fear factor.
The days and night before the race is spent stressing myself out about the course layout, logistics and perhaps, most important, the locations of bathrooms. But along with the fear and the stress, I know there is also the heightened sense of accomplishment.
By mile 9, I realized that this habit had spilled over to my work life. I left a comfortable position three years ago to enter a new industry and to start a new business with gyro. I had it good where I was, but I decided to shake things up. I had become, in a sense, “fat and happy” in my career.
Like training, we can easily fall into the habit of just going to work every day. In fact, some probably dislike their job as much as I dislike running. And I wonder if that might be because our work life sometimes lacks that “event” to give it purpose. It’s easy to fall into a routine and become comfortable. Life itself can be complicated, so why make it more difficult?
Perhaps a seemingly insurmountable scary goal is what is needed give greater meaning to our work, and to reenergize us. With the fear of the unknown or the unaccomplished also comes the reminder of what it is to be alive.
Yes, setting audacious goals can be painful and uncomfortable, like how my lower back and calves feel as I sit here writing this, but you might also be pleasantly surprised. A sense of accomplishment can fuel the need to set bigger, more challenging ways to push yourself, thus becoming a habit. So, if you get a chance to be alone with your thoughts, ask yourself, why do you run.
He blogs regularly at www.B2Bknowledgesharing.com