Run because it brings you joy

The written word reveals something to the writer.  So in the years that I’ve been writing, I’ve learned some things about myself.

Now I’m on a quest, wondering where my own words might eventually lead me.  Those of you who faithfully read my columns may be searching too, and we could all be looking for the same elusive thing.

I have to begin with some of my earliest memories, when I was a boy playing sports in my back yard.  Always the youngest and smallest, I needed to prove that I was capable of competing with the others.

A child’s imagination is a powerful thing, so I don’t know how much of my memory is real.  I recall being overwhelmed and overpowered, but I also remember exciting moments, times when I believed that I could compete with anyone.

While the joy of boyhood was written on our faces, there was something serious about the games we played.  In the nearby city, legends threw touchdown passes and hit home runs.  I dreamed of becoming one of them.

And as I compared my own capabilities to those of the boys around me, athleticism became a measuring stick.

It’s no wonder that when I began running in high school there was nothing casual about it.  I spotted the best runners in the area and set out on a pursuit to become one of them.  There were victories back then, but not enough to satisfy my craving.  So when I skipped college and got a job, I wasn’t ready to give it up.

I spent the next ten years training hundreds of hours for every few moments of satisfaction that came from crossing a finish line first.  The satisfaction never lasted.  It always seemed like I could have run faster.  There was always another runner I wanted to beat.

I imagine most good athletes are wired in a similar way.  Contentment and diligence don’t often mingle.

It’s been forty years since I ran my first race.  The world is immeasurably changed, and so is the body in which I reside.  Nevertheless, I can’t seem to douse the competitive ember.  So when I run, especially on good days, that old desire comes again.

There are good things about that.  Running fast feels natural.  Enduring the pain of fatigue for the sake of improvement feeds my heart, but I’m beginning to recognize an underlying feeling that doesn’t.

I met a new friend recently.  He wanted to hear my running story, so I told him.  When I was finished, there was a pause before he spoke.  Then he used a word to describe how I sounded, and it took me a moment to hear it – disappointed.

I would have disagreed if he hadn’t been right.  The goals I didn’t reach, the races I failed to win, the rivals I couldn’t catch all still disappoint me.

I’m living with this illusion that I can still run a race that would cure my regret.  If I could only train long and hard enough, new achievements might overshadow my perception of the past. 

But what my friend said next shocked me into reality.  “Someday, you’re going to have to give it up.”

A part of this seems so silly.  I feel selfish for belittling my running achievements when so many others would love to own them.  I feel ashamed that I still measure myself with race times that no one else cares about. 

So, I’m on a quest for the virtue we all desperately need – self-acceptance.

It’s an internal journey.  But whenever I put my thoughts down on paper I create something tangible to guide me.

I want to run just because it brings me joy.  I want to run fast because I love the feeling.  And whether I’m relaxed on a quiet trail or suffering in the final stages of a race, I want to enjoy the miles I have left without condition.