Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I Needed the Reminder More Than She Did

Yesterday, a friend of mine shared that she'd had a bad run. "It was eight miles of sheer pain and torture," she said, "I hated every step and cried through the last three miles. I'm tired of running, I'm tired of sweating, I'm tired of working hard all the time and not getting faster. I'm tired of stinking, tired of thinking about what I eat to fuel a run, I'm tired of the laundry from all the dirty running clothes. I'm just tired of it."

Anyone who's been running or training for anything physical for a length of time will tell you, this sounds like burn out. So we talked about that. We talked about how hard you work, how it seems the real, tangible rewards don't always follow and whether or not it's worth it. In her case, she just needs a break. A full week off running will likely be her cure. I know a week doesn't seem like much but to a runner, it can be an eternity. For her, it'll be just the time she needs to remember why she loves it so much. Even lovers need a holiday, as the song says.

As we talked, we got deep into the subject of why you'd come back to something that caused pain. Why, as intelligent people, do we want to push ourselves harder? Why do we want to keep trying? Why do we want to do better? And why, some days above all else, would we want more laundry?

The answer is both simple and not. The easy answer, the one I hear runners give a lot is because. What's not simple is that so much follows that "because." It's physical, it's mental, it's spiritual. It involves vanity, it involves obsession, it involves euphoria. It involves taking advantage of life, of moments and of possibilities. It means giving, it means taking, and it means sharing. For a runner, there's truly nothing like it.

"How do you keep going?"

I didn't expect that question. I hate those questions. I am a "because" person. I can't narrow it down. I'm also a Libra; we can't pick just a reason, right? But she needed an answer, and really, I did too. So I thought for a while. And we talked more, about mundane running things, like shoes (my current favorite is the Asics Gel Cumulus, by the way) and Injini's while I thought. I asked her if I could think about it for a while, which came as a shock to both of us. Rare is it I don't have the right words to say, not to mention no words at all when it comes to running. I mean, I could sell the sport of running to a fish! But just then, the question struck me and I wanted to think about it.

After turning thoughts over in my head for a while, I thought about what really keeps me going. Why am I out there? What would I want someone to say to me?

Later, I sent her an email:

Well, you asked why I run, or more so, why I keep going. I can't say I can give you a definitive answer, but here's what I think right now. Do you remember days in your life when you've gotten a particular compliment, or had great success? Do you remember days when maybe you've won something or were awarded something? You know the days when you've been with people you love, and you're overwhelmed by how good it feels? I do. I remember all of that, all those feelings. You're in a magical state, on top of the world, right? And when I think about those moments, I'm always brought back to the fact that they would have been nothing without the help of others. It was others who helped me, supported me and worked for me when I needed it. Running reminds me that all of those moments, all of those feelings are within me.

I know you and I are social runners. I know we enjoy the camaraderie with others and I don't believe I'd ever trade that. But running, at the end, is just you. It's your mind and body pushing you and holding onto all those reasons we give ourselves to keep going. At it's most basic foundation, it's about what you alone can do. You're going through pain, training, emotions and you stink (literally) but you know, somewhere, sometime, that feeling is going to come along. That feeling of happiness, pride, relief or the culmination of all of those and you know how good it's going to feel. It might not be soon, and it might not be often but it's out there, waiting for you to come around again. And when you do, it's going to be because YOU got out there on the road, and YOU put in the work and you, alone, told yourself that you could.

Your running, my friend, I know wouldn't be the same without the right shoes, a day of good weather and supportive family and friends. But most of all, it wouldn't be the same, it wouldn't even exist, without you! Remember that, because it's all coming from you.


Danielle said...

Oh so true...and very eloquently said. Running just is...

Anonymous said...

Great post. I know I have had burn out before, but I always come back to running. Every time I come back though it is for different reasons.

I started running with friends after college because I had a lot of free time all the sudden. After 2 years I stopped because of an injury.

After a year break I was back running trying to make friends in my new home - Chicago. Then I stopped for a year because my mom was sick and I was traveling way too much.

I came back to running again last year to find peace and understanding of why the universe took my mom away from me. And I continue to run now for peace and sanity!

You'll friend will figure it out - she might need more than a week but she'll find her way back when it is right.

e.b. said...

Here's the thing, that is true not just for running. As a non-runner, it applies to other disciplines. Feeling burnt out on other ideas, jobs, hobbies. Which makes it an even better message and great post - it homes home to so many more including those who don't torture themselves with 26 miles.

Sizzle said...

that's some great advice.

and now i am singing that damn peter cetera song! :)

runliarun said...

Because... life gathers intensity when you run... and you feel utterly alive. And it would not be the same without the pain. It would be easy. And it's the exertion that makes it worthwhile.

JustRun said...

Danielle- I think it's that way for any thing we love, sometimes there's no explanation.

Nicole- I agree, it's different for everyone. I think finding that peace is worth more than just about everything else.

E.B- Definitely. But we talk about the devil we know more than anything else.

JustRun said...

Sizzle- Hehe, me too! :)

Lia- Well said.

Backofpack said...

I find that running is the only thing in my life that is pure me. Now, that is a funny thing to say when I am den mother of the running club, but in the end, even when I'm on the road with six other people, it's only me that moves me forward. Nothing else in my life is like that - not my job, which has a momentum and life of it's own, not my family, where we are a unit, not my marriage, where there are two to traverse the path, not the Y, the board and the committees and the teaching of Pilates would go on without me, only running. If I don't run, if I don't move out the door, then it stops. How fast I go, how far I go, is solely a function of my ability and desire. So, yes, I've repeated in so many words what you said, to find and confirm that I agree with you! Wonderful, insightful post that made me think a bit...thanks!

Sempre Libera said...

Perfect! I might have to quote you the next time someone asks me that question.

JustRun said...

Michelle- Yes, somehow I knew you'd understand!

SL- If you can make sense of it, please feel free. It's not the most articulate thing I've ever written. :)

egan said...

I couldn't even get to the end of this post you got me so pumped up with your email to your friend. I got asked the same question many times last year while training for a marathon and the Ironman. It truly is about pushing ourselves and the euphoria you get afterwards.

I can't imagine running when every step is painful and crying for the final three miles. That's not right. The mindset has to be there. See it as an opportunity to improve/maintain your health and get some good quality "me time". Great post topic.

P.S. thanks for sharing your shoe selection. I love Asics too.

JustRun said...

Egan- That shoe reference was for you. I was stuck on Saucony Grids FOR-EV-ER but finally changed it up because of injury. I'm an Asics believer now.

I think sometimes, a really bad run is in the cards. It's like anything else, right? Which is why a lot of runners love running- it's completely representative of life and yet, it can remove you from all the "normal" motions of life at the same time.

Ginger Breadman said...

Thanks for the inspiration to think about what running is for me and what it gives to my life. Great post.

Joe said...

Great post. I share many of the same reasons for running as you do. I could also add a few.

For example, a local TV doctor recently said "If you want to have a healthy and happy lifestyle when you retire, you MUST exercise now". Notice he said MUST not SHOULD. So whenever I think "Gee, I don't feeling like running or swimming today", I remind myself of what the doctor said. Exercise isn't a thing we SHOULD do. It's something we MUST do. It's not optional.

For another example of why I run and swim, I refer you to Al Pacino's famous inches speech in the movie Any Given Sunday. In particular, this part resonates with me:

"And I know if I am going to have any life anymore it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch because that is what LIVING is."

To me, the months of struggle, pain and sacrifice leading up to a race is a small price to pay for the joy of finishing that race and knowing that I did my best on that particular day. That pain and that joy is what living is all about. With no pain and no joy, life is pretty boring and you already have one foot in the grave.

Dawn said...

What a great post?!!

The joys and sorrows and ups and downs of running are truly amazing.

justacoolcat said...

Burn out sucks. Maybe it's time your friend gets a bike or cross trains.

Bre said...

That's some really fabulous advice... it almost makes me want to strap on my sneakers and pound some pavement.... except the pavement is still hidden under ice and snow...