(With a Gassho to Mo)
I’ve never completely understood why it is that I run.
When the question has been asked or hinted at, I’ve usually given some shallow answer along the lines of, ‘I suppose I could be doing worse’. To some extent it’s fairly easy to brush such esoteric questions aside when they’re posed by friends, but more difficult when you’re asking them of yourself.
So. Why do I run?
I think my reasons have changed over time. The reasons I have now are not the ones I started with. When I first discovered that I could run, and by that I mean that I could go for a quiet jog without either the world or myself falling apart, I found great satisfaction in just being daring enough to cover a few miles. At that time in my life I had to fight my way through a jungle of insecurity and anxiety just to accomplish many such simple things. Having broken through and discovered relative freedom, I built confidence day by day and eventually reached a point where I felt myself brave, and perhaps even in some way exceptional, just because I could run. At that time I believe I ran because it allowed me to feel good about myself by providing a reason to feel a little less bad about myself.
As time moved on the equation changed a little, but not completely. I became a little fitter and to some extent more knowledgeable about the mechanics of the sport. I met other runners and running changed for me from being a solitary pursuit to a mostly shared activity. I made good friends through running, one of them being the guy in the mirror. I travelled to races, and began to share in experiences that I could only have been a part of as a runner. I grew attached to a sense of belonging to the loosely defined community of runners. Over time I came to identify more and more closely with the feeling of being a ‘runner’. I then had an additional reason to run. It made me feel good about myself and I belonged.
Now that I was a bona-fide runner it was less difficult to compete. Whereas I had been happy in earlier times to complete the course, I now became ambitious to run faster, to enter races and to look the part. I wanted to be a ‘better’ runner. It seemed to make perfect sense that if I could run a 10km race in 35 minutes, rather than 45 minutes, that I would then feel better about the process and that I would enjoy it more. So, I trained harder and, as a result, I ran a bit faster. I also trained longer and completed longer races. The plan seemed to work. To some degree at least, I did feel better and I did enjoy the experience. Now I ran because I felt I that had found something that I was good at.
In more recent times I feel that my reasons for running are beginning to change again but I’m not altogether sure where the process of change will take me. Although I feel sure that I shall continue to run for as long as I am able, I hope that I may no longer have to work quite so hard at reassuring myself. This is not because I’ve reached any sort of athletic enlightenment, but rather that having enjoyed the process so well to this point, I hope that I can in some way relax and appreciate the individual strides more than I have before.
The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh has taught that ‘Peace is in Every Step’, and although I feel sure that he didn’t have ultramarathon running in mind when he gave that teaching, his words resonate for me. More than before I run because the process in enjoyable, not in retrospect or in anticipation, but in the moment. The peace or satisfaction I find in running is found on the road and is experienced step by step. I don’t believe I can improve my running by becoming faster or by running further but perhaps I can do so by being more considerate of my fellow runners and by showing a little more kindness on the road.