One question often asked by runners of themselves is; “Am I real runner?”
It’s a question that most people find easier to answer in the affirmative after they’ve been running for just a little while. For myself, after perhaps a year or so, I left behind that initial insecurity and bravely assumed unto myself the exalted status of ‘proper runner’. Once you’ve accepted that you’re probably one of the gang, you really don’t have to join up for a second time. As John L.Parker famously implied, once a runner, always a runner. I have, just once or twice, been stricken with some doubt as to whether I remained an ultramarathoner at times when I hadn’t run further that 26.2 miles for a long, long time. I remember having that conversation with one of our club’s best runners, someone who had run internationally on many occasions, and that he just laughed any such reservation off. From his point of view, he would remain a cross-country runner for as long as he ever aspired to run a cross-country race again, and even perhaps for many years afterwards.
I’ve always felt very comfortable with the identity of ‘runner’, even though I haven’t ever felt any desperate urge to be a brilliant at it. I’ve always wanted to be just a little better or faster that I was at that particular moment, and as long as I felt that it was at least theoretically possible to improve, I’ve been happy enough to train away. I’ve long ago accepted that I’m never going to be really fast, but that has never diminished my enjoyment of training or racing.
The question that intrigues me more often nowadays is, “Is it a good thing to be a runner?” At times I’ve felt that I take it all a bit too seriously, and that I might enjoy more peace of mind if I were to run less. As I’ve waited for my post-race pains and aches to resolve themselves after the 24 hour even in Helsinki, I’ve been very conscious of how physically uneasy I become when I’m prevented by illness or injury from getting out onto the road. At times over the last three weeks, as I’ve waited to get back to my normal training routine, I’ve felt like I might be missing a limb or that in some way I wasn’t able to connect properly with the world around me. Perhaps that’s not an altogether healthy state of mind.
From a Buddhist perspective, I can see that I have an attachment to running that may well cause me to suffer in time to come. Even though I can recognise that I’m almost certainly unhealthily in thrall to my daily running fix, I don’t really believe there’s any immediate prospect of me making any attempt to reduce my training. Perhaps I’m like an alcoholic that can recognise their drinking problem but at the same time has no interest in putting down the bottle.
For the moment, I’m whole again – dependency and all – and I’m back on the road. A nippy eleven miles with a pal this morning left me feeling more at peace with myself that I have for a couple of weeks.
I’m either fixed or fucked. Who knows?