WHY DO WE DO THIS THING CALLED RUNNING?

09.08.2016

Why indeed!

Runners Running (at the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon)

Runners Running (at the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon)

The question is totally loaded. There are probably as many reasons as there are runners. Maybe I’m writing this for all the people who don’t run or don’t know why YOU run. This is a problem, of course, since people who don’t run probably aren’t reading this blog. Maybe I should just stop. Well, no. Little things like this have never stopped me before!

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

About Half of the Contributors, Victoria, BC at the official launch.

Since the blog is called “Running in the Zone” and comes from the book of a similar name, perhaps I’ll start with the answer I got when I asked this question of the 26 contributors. And, while some were just like me, avid mid-pack runners, many were Olympians and world record holders. All were past their main competitive days, thus the second part of the book title: “A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes“. Seasoned was kind of code for ‘old’, but so much nicer.

I did a little survey about a bunch of things among the contributors and one of the questions was, “Why do you run?” While the words were all a bit different, they all pretty much boiled down to: “Because I love it.”

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

BJ (Betty Jean) McHugh at the First Half Half Marathon

People start running for a lot of reasons, some start young and never stop, while some start much, much later in life and keep going for years. Just a few examples include the pictured “BJ” McHugh, Ed Whitlock and Fauja Singh (still running at 100 years of age). Usually the ‘later in life’ people start doing it because of weight issues or health. I was certainly one of those. Like many, I had run in school, but then stopped when school ended. Without going into a lot of detail, I picked up again when just shy of 40. I had been quite athletic in my younger years playing baseball, running track and field and the biggie (for my family), playing soccer. I played ‘at’ lots of things, but those three were the real deal. Soccer was the last to go. I played for UBC and only quit after a fairly serious injury and some heavy academic time commitments. Oh, and because I had found my limit regarding skill and ability. Unfortunately, the injury (knee) was something that seemed to linger through the years. Forty was not my first time of trying running. Every time I did though, after a mile or so of what you could call a jog pace, the knee would start screaming. No problem to walk forever or sprint from point A to point B, but that longer distance ‘jog’ pace just wasn’t happening. Finally, I figured that if I could run a mile without pain, I would do that, often. Surely, for health reasons, it was better than not running a mile. After doing this for a little while (few months) I decided maybe I could go a bit longer. Tried 2 miles without problem, then a bit more and a bit more and about three years later, trained for and ran my first marathon. All my PBs came in a period of about 18 months in 1988-89. I was 43/44 at the time. I must admit the competitive side of me wonders how fast I might have been able to run had I tried my ‘mile at a time’ experiment sooner. We will never know. Oh well, I suppose if you really, really believe in age grading, we could estimate some times. And yes, I have done that.

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Finishing up my Marathon PB (1988)

Anyway, that is how I came to my (second) running career that now spans well over 30 years. Racing was not always part of it, but for the most part I did keep the legs and feet moving, racing or no racing. Why? Because for a range of reasons, in terms of what it gives me – I love running.

Some of the elite contributors to Running in the Zone obviously started young and kept going. When I said that ‘Seasoned’ was another term for old, I should make clear that the youngest contributors to the book were only about 46 when they wrote their piece, but for unrestricted elite running, 46 IS old. Some continued with age group or masters running to satisfy their competitive nature and some just run and don’t compete at all. In most of those cases, the individual isn’t interested in racing when they can’t do what they used to do, but they still want the running part.

Lead Women - Boston Marathon 2009 - Being Fierce

Lead Women – Boston Marathon 2009 – Being Fierce

For the elites, I suppose a major reason for running is that they are good at it. And, being competitive of spirit, there isn’t much more to say. Knowing a fairly significant number of competitive elite runners, and knowing how hard they work to BE competitive, you also just have to know there is something fundamental driving them. Exactly WHAT it is they love is another matter. Being the very best they can be, winning, delving into the depths of their own endurance are all possibilities for the reason any given individual might put him or herself through what elites and even sub-elites do to be that good.

Double Agent two-fer on Maniacs/Fanatics group membership. (Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

Double Agent two-fer on Maniacs/Fanatics group membership.
(Photo: Courtesy of Revel)

I am a member of Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, a Double Agent so to speak. There is a whole different dynamic at play in these groups, both of which are now counting over 14,000 members. While there are some fast runners in these groups, being fast gets you nothing. Elite marathoners generally run 1-4 races per year, two being pretty common. Not one of them could qualify to join Marathon Maniacs. The qualifying standard is ‘how many’ in a period of time; same for Half Fanatics. There are ten levels in both groups and attaining those levels depends on running a certain (generally large-ish) number of marathons (or halfs) in a specified period of time. I can say with certainty that members take pride and pleasure in attaining these goals. I am sure that among other reasons for running, they enjoy meeting similar minded maniacal (or fanatical) people. They enjoy traveling to run, because there just aren’t enough local races to run to realize the group achievement standards. And, just as running fast is a true athletic goal, so is running a lot. It is a different form of our sport and the people who do a LOT of marathons often don’t train much. Let’s face it, if you run a marathon every weekend, you don’t need to do a lot beyond loosening the old legs up between races. For those who neither think nor behave this way, if you did run a marathon every weekend for a year (some Maniacs do that) and took not another running step between races, you would cover 1,362.4 miles, or 2,194.4km. Of course, these numbers require that you cut every tangent perfectly, too!

I know a lot of people with busy lives or stressful jobs who use running to dissipate the tension that builds up. Some refuse to race (even if they run a lot and may actually be quite good runners) precisely because competing at running when the rest of their life is filled with various forms of competition, just becomes another stress. Who needs that? But, if running is a stress buster, what’s not to love?  It has certainly been one of my personal reasons, more-so  at some times than at others.

bottomofhill

Speaking of mentoring, this is my grandson, Charlie, and me racing.

One of the things I love about running is being able to coach or mentor others who are just coming to it. I have been involved in leading running clinic groups for at least a dozen years. I know many who feel the same way and find great pleasure in being able to help and support others as they come to the sport for the first time or to improve their performance, whatever that may mean. While I have coached/mentored true beginners, in the clinic group I lead now I am often encountering people preparing for their very first half or full marathon. It is great fun to be able to help those individuals realize that major life goal.

I know many competitively spirited people who still want to ‘win’ in various senses. I am definitely one of those people. Winning has different meanings. I sometimes point out (usually to new runners, just getting into racing, and maybe feeling that they just aren’t good enough) that any race has precisely ONE winner. That is the guy (usually) who crosses the line first. Steve Prefontaine  described being second as ‘First Loser’. It was mostly a statement of his personal standard for his own aspirations, but puts a nice context into this idea. I have had some flack for that statement, usually from people who feel the effort involved in doing something hard makes them a ‘winner’. It makes a good conversation starter though, and gives me a chance to point out that I am really saying the same thing. I just use the shock value to get other people’s attention.

Revel does good 'bling'! Slept with my gold medal the first night.

Revel does good ‘bling’! Slept with my gold medal the first night.

Winning can mean winning your age group, and I know lots who avidly pursue this goal. Often they don’t so much want to beat anybody else (OK, sometimes they do), but rather, like Pre, they want to meet a standard they have set for themselves. Since I’ve never really been that good, I take my age-group podiums, including golds, when they come and enjoy them, but for me ‘winning’ means maintaining my performance either in raw times for any distance or in age graded times or performance. It is inevitable as you start counting off the years, that around my age, you are going to be slower. You can only forestall that slowing. You cannot stop it. So, holding steady on personal performance is a win for me. If that gets me a medal now and then, that is a bonus and gives me pleasure, but the real ‘win’ is being out there and doing it as well as I can. My big (being just a little facetious) thrill and claim to fame just now is that I am the age group record holder at the Revel Mount Charleston Half Marathon. Somehow, I managed to win my age group. 2016 was the inaugural running of the event. I have to be the record holder. Still, I’m having fun for now!

Another rewarding thing for runners can be pushing to some new level – a half marathon, marathon or maybe that first ‘ultra’. Finding yourself able to do something you never thought you could is hugely rewarding. In my opinion, it is also a fine reason to run. Actually, never mind the marathon, the first 5K.  Or, as the Vancouver Sun Run proves on an annual basis, the first 10K completed at any pace, amounts to a wonderful and pleasing accomplishment.

NYCM Expo 2007

NYCM Expo 2007

Parts of running can be a part of the ‘why’ of running. I run marathons in particular, at least partly because of the energy or ‘vibe’ of  such races. There is something about being around people doing a marathon. There is a mix of fear and determination along with anticipation that is not much like any other type of race. There is nothing certain about stepping to the line to start a marathon, not even for the elite runners at the head of the field. You NEVER know how it will go. The best runners have to drop out (sometimes) while the slowest, with dogged determination, finish. To be fair, you really can’t compare those speedy elites at the front with the rest of us, especially if you are running a big race like New York City Marathon, Chicago, London, Berlin, but we all run the same race, the same course, on the same day in the same weather.

Actually, one of the big thrills of those major marathons is that I can run in a race with the best in the world. Name another sport where the mere mortal is allowed to be in the same event as the very best. I play golf now and then, but I can’t just trundle down to Augusta and book myself a tee-time for the Masters. Granted, some of those marathons are hard to get into, but that is a matter of weight of numbers, not restrictions based on ability. Yeah, yeah, I know – Boston, but even Boston only requires that you be pretty good for your age.

Running isn't always about racing.

Running isn’t always about racing.

I have somewhat let myself drift into equating running with racing. It isn’t. When writing/editing our book, Running in the Zone, I was faced with the question of what I would actually write for my own contribution. I mentioned earlier, the concept of stress busting being facilitated by running. I decided that maybe a few words on running meditation would be in order. What I wrote was a bit of a formalized description of what a lot of runners do whether they recognize it or not. I was quick to point out that this may require a certain fitness and ability level that would let a person just ‘run easy’. I mean, when you are first starting out, there may not be any such thing as an easy run. Truly though, it really doesn’t take that long to have a differentiated pace that can be described as ‘easy’. The essence of what I wrote was just a bit of a guide on getting your body and mind into the right place for a very meditative kind of running. It is wonderfully peaceful and rejuvenating. As I said, most experienced runners have probably done this with or without consciously knowing they are doing it. When that sort of option is available anytime you want to do it, what’s not to love?

I suppose I could go on at somewhat greater length, but as with many of my posts the intention is to get the reader thinking. I hope I have done that. I’d love to hear what others hold as their reasons to run.

sorry, comments are closed