Thursday, November 3, 2011

why i run races (i know i won't win)

i do not run in order to run faster.  i do not run in order to win.  this is quite convenient considering my chances of winning are, well...  i don't race in order to win.

Geoff Roes, Ultra-Marathon king and my favorite endurance athlete, just posted some interesting thoughts on the love/hate relationship he has with the daily run, which he describes as:
the day in and day out runs that fill in the gaps between these larger, planned out runs
to apply Geoff's "planned out runs" to hacks like me, i'll think of them as "the weekend long run".  those who really get into longer runs seem to all agree there is a strange state of being you achieve while being that person out there performing that run.  the struggles you go through, the ups and the downs, they read like an epic, and you are always the hero.  the scenery binds vividly with your state of mind and state of well being and perhaps inspires or even deflates you.  the daily run, in contrast, is often not entirely prepared for, done after a hard day's work, done against all rational indicators that one should go out there and do it.  and it doesn't always work out great.  but i think Geoff captures is correctly when he says:
Often when I set out the door on "the daily run" I have no idea where or for how long I am going to go. Every now and then I do an entire one of these runs and never really come to a place of feeling like I want to be running at that time. More often than not though, I get a few minutes into one of these runs and things start to fade away. I stop thinking about the story I read while I was drinking my coffee in the morning. I stop thinking about the emails I sent just before heading out the door. I stop thinking about what I'm going to cook for dinner. Eventually my mind comes really present and I begin to really feel my body, and really notice the things going on in the mountains around me. Sometimes this only takes a few minutes, and other times it takes hours, but almost without fail, no matter how much I think that I didn't want to go out for a run on any particular day, I end up coming back home at the end of the run feeling nourished by the fact that I stepped out the door 
Geoff also goes on to win some very serious races.  i, on the other hand, do not.  i don't NEED to run for any training purposes, other than to meet my own personal goals, which, if i miss them, will not exactly change the quality of my life.  what would change the quality of my life is if i didn't run...  (and, i can really reiterate that having been injured for the better part of the past two months, as it reverberates LOUDLY in my thick head).

so what's the point of racing?   it doesn't nourish me, it doesn't keep me sane, it isn't my goal, not what i run for.  but i do it, repeatedly.  here are some reasons:

1. i think it's pretty common for people who are feeling badly on a run to look ahead (or think ahead on known routes) to a particular point in the run and say, "i may be feeling badly now, but i should be feeling better by the time i get to X".  maybe it's the end of a climb, or a section where you don't feel as badly going slower...  who knows.  but these little markers, if i can just get to the next X, really help me push through the hard parts of a run.  in a bigger picture, races are like these X points on a run.  i just want to keep my running consistent until i get to race X so i can feel satisfied with my performance...  and so on and so forth.

2. i was reading this post from the blog As Far AS My Feet Will Take Me and it really struck a chord.  the post is ended with a brilliant summary including the following quote:
"The obsession with running is really an obsession with the potential for more and more life." - George Sheehan
even though i'm getting older, i still believe i can go faster and go farther.  i don't need to.  as i said before, that's not what it's about...  but i certainly do feel good when i break a PR or run a longer distance than i ever have before.  the race results give me a measuring stick.  it's about believing in myself....  maybe believing myself to be that hero in the epic run i was describing earlier.  setting goals and achieving them... and it's about so much more than the run.... that confidence permeates every aspect of my life.  it magnifies my ability to enjoy it all, humbles me to the point of understanding my place and not having to worry about all those pre-occupations that prevent us from taking in the moment.  more and more and more and more....  

3. it's not all soul-searching and flowers though...  i'm pretty damn competitive.  despite the fact that todd is faster and joel can run father i still yearn to beat them...  badly.  in a completely  un-mean-spirited way, they drive me to achieve more, and i strive to achieve more, so i can have a chance, well, to beat them!  especially when we make a wager, as we have done on the 2012 Vermont City Marathon.

4. and, really, the most practical reason is just so i can explain it to people who can find no other way to understand why i run so much.  "ahhhh, you're training!!" as if the race justifies it all.  hey, the amount of time it has saved me from explaining why i run so much...  has probably amounted to more running, making that answer completely worth it!


  1. Hey fellas, found this link today on NYTimes and thought you might be interested. More Chris McDougall

  2. paul!! nice to see you around these parts!

    further urging: come run burlington with us!