Monday, May 9, 2011

The Questions People Ask Runners

It goes without saying that running is pretty unique.  Even in the current popularity boom that the sport is experiencing, true commitment to distance running is looked at to some as a waste of time, to others as strange, or even as a selfish masochistic sport only interested in personal glory or accomplishments.  While many people are indifferent, as soon as you get them on the topic of running they typically have some pretty strong pre-conceived ideas or opinions about "our sport."  The majority of the time I can tell what someone really thinks about long-distance running by the way they ask questions about what I do.  So, in the next several posts I'd like to give my personal answers to some of the most common questions that non-runners ask me or my friends about why we spent so many hours running around when clearly we could be doing other things with our time.

Here are the questions (with the assumptions in parenthesis.) 
  • Why do you run? (What's the point?)
  • What do you think about while you run that whole time? (how can you not possibly be bored out of your mind)
  • Is your wife o.k. with you spending all that time running? (can you really balance running and "real life?"
  • How is running possibly enjoyable? (The only real experience I have with running is in Gym class or being punished while playing another sport) 
  • Why run a marathon (Why not just a 5k like normal people?)
 Question #1 Why do you run?

Most of the time when someone asks me about running or just starts talking about why they don't like running, which is more common of the two, it begins with the essence of the activity.  Why would a human being put on shoes and try to run continually for a long period of time?  I get the whole "the only running I do is to the kitchen or to the bathroom after a wicked trip to the kitchen."  Sometimes I hear "I'll run...if I'm chasing a ball, or being chased by the cops, or trying to catch the metro but run for running's sake?  No thanks."  To be fair, all of the other questions that I'll address flow from this one but today I'll try to keep it general and answer this bottom line question: why run?

I've liked to run ever since I was a little kid.  In fact, as a really little guy I was so much smaller than everyone else that my only shot at competing at sports or being accepted by the other little boys was that I could run faster than them.  It got me out of some tough situations with bullies too.  But at the age of 13 I joined the track team, mostly to impress a girl named Coleen Elliott.  She was a girl who was out of my league but showing serious interest despite my skinny pasty legs, I thought because I could run 400 meters faster than other Jr. Highers.  Never quite figured out why it didn't work out with her.

As I hit high school I ran for the competition, for newspaper headlines, and then for a college scholarship.  In college it was my job; I ran to pay the bills.  But as I described in my first post, this new phase of running isn't about any of that stuff.  My wife has put up with me for 8 years and God willing she's gonna be around for many more.  No one cares about my performances, well, not people who could give me anything in return except for a pat on the back or a word of encouragement (although that goes a long way, I'll talk about that later).  And unlike high school, other than small local road races, I'm not going to line up and win the marathon.  Although I did forget that question.  "So, you're running the Paris marathon, do you think you'll win?"  Uh...yeah maybe...

So now I run for different reasons.  What's the appeal?  Well in short, I guess it's the same response that I would give if you asked me what I like about music or why I like to read.  Can you respond to that question in one sentence?  Where do you start when talking about what you like about music?  Do you talk about the emotions produced, the memories invoked, the technical aspects of meter, rhyme, and key?  To be honest, the question is not fair.  When someone usually asks me why I run I feel like a 15 year old pimple faced high schooler who's just been asked what he learned most today in school.  He gives a shrugged "I dunno."

I do like the way running makes me feel.  I like being in shape, and I like looking at myself in the mirror and not seeing a bunch of flab.  The feeling is more than that though; it's something physical as well.  Just like when I'm at a sweet jazz show, there is something inexplicable being produced while I'm on the journey.  I love the wind in my face, the sun shining down, the ability to see so much of my city.  But these feelings are subjective and intangible.  The feeling of finishing a 20 miler and knowing that you're extremely tired but at the same time running on endorphins and pain cannot be described, only experienced.  I heard once that the reason runners love to finish a long run with a beer is because the brain is already producing the feeling of slight inebriation and beer only lengthens the effect.

I run because I like to find the limits of my physical body but more importantly the ones in my mind.  I like to know how fast I can possibly run 5 miles or 10 miles or 26.2.  This is the way that humans have been created, to explore our limits, to run farther, jump higher, explore ideas, to "boldly go where no man has gone before."  Or maybe it's just to go where I've never gone before.

But it's not just the feeling or the competition or the endorphins.  For me, running, just like everything in my life, is spiritual.  If I'm doing what God's created me to do, I'm experiencing a new level of what it means to be human or to live.  I can find that out while I pray or study or sing but I find that personally, I find a unique window into my faith and spirituality while running. Plus, all that time on my own is good for my mind and perspective as I think about counseling others or writing messages.  I'll write some other time about all of the parallels for me between running and faith but to say it simply, running for me is an act of worship.  

So why do I run?  I dunno. It just feels like I should run and I want to and right now I have been blessed with the ability to train myself physically as well as mentally so the bigger question for me is "why not?"  Is this just purely selfish then?  I guess, but it's the same sort of selfish as the reason we read to get smarter or learn how to play an instrument or learn to speak another language.  God has given us the unknown to explore, and for me running is one of my great quests.

I don't blame people for thinking I'm weird for running or for criticizing the time spent.  I just always figure if they tried, with some guidance, they might change their minds.

1 comment:

jp75018 said...


Nice post!
Same except that people ask me: Why run 100K (Why not just a marathon like normal people?).