I used to always ask runners why they run. I don’t ask that question anymore, because most people can’t really articulate the answer. Now I ask almost every runner I meet this question: “do you run because you love it or because you have a talent for it?” I find the answers quite profound.What I’ve heard from runners is both as surprising and varied as the runners themselves. I’ve heard people say that they run because they it helps them sleep. I’ve heard people say that they run because it allows them to eat whatever they like or drink more beer. I’ve heard people say that they do it to be with their friends. Some have told me that running gives them purpose in their life or they are doing it as a remembrance for someone. I’ve heard people say that it gives them direction and goals in their lives. I’ve heard people say they do it for the guys (or the girls). I’ve even heard at least one person say that she runs because she actually likes portable toilets, but she may have been pulling my leg.
But rarely do I hear people say straight-out: “I do it because I’m good at it.” And this seems to be true even among very fast runners.
I was thinking about this the other morning before a race. I wasn’t feeling very well. I was kind of tired and cranky. My legs were bothering me and my bike wasn’t working correctly. It all felt kind of like a big hassle that day. I asked myself the question that I ask so many other people: “Joe, do you do this because you love it or because you’re good at it?” Of course, on the one hand, I’m good at it. I’ve been doing it all of my life and have enjoyed great success as a runner. But as I thought through my answer I found myself thinking that there must be more than that. I know that If all we have is talent, then it makes it very hard to overcome the hassles, the struggles, the pain that we’re going to inevitably feel as we run. If we don’t have something more driving us, it seems to me, that it becomes very hard to overcome these barriers.
It’s the joy part of the equation that keeps us coming back for more.
Even if we don’t love running every single day, we must at least like it a little. Without the “like”, without the joy, without those many other things that it brings to us then we probably would just find excuses not to do it.
My psychologist friend likes to use the analogy of a tree, imagining that you are the tree. She says that the roots of the tree are what hold it up and keep it sturdy when the wind blows against it. Those roots need to include certain things: friendship, pleasure, exercise, spirituality, and love. The strong the roots, the stronger the tree when it gets stormy. The first time we talked about this, I said “well, my running is my exercise.” She didn’t like that answer much. ‘Are you sure?’ she asked. ‘Is it your exercise, or your spirituality, or your source of friendships?” I think I ultimately concluded that it was a mixture of many of the roots of my tree. Running brings a lot to my life, including the ability to help others, a time to meditate, and a time to ponder things more deeply than I can when I’m bombarded by everything going on in my life. Run strengthens me physically, but it also strengthens me in many other ways.
So even on a bad day, when running may feel like a hassle, there’s more to it than that. It’s more than just talent and more than just exercise. It’s also more than just joy. Running may be one of the very roots that holds our tree up when the wind starts blowing hard. And I suppose for that, I can say that I love it.
Coach Joe English @coachjoeenglish, Portland, Oregon, USA
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