April in New York is a frustrating month for me – as I would assume it is for most runners. The weather is unpredictable. Do I need long-sleeves? Gloves? Should I bring a wind-breaker in case it rains? These corporeal problems are important to a runner because numb hands and cold ears can have a quick and deleterious effect on a run. Being unprepared for rain miles away from shelter sucks. But, in my experience, it sucks because of what it does to one’s mind. If my mind is in it, I can run in the dark through wind and hail. It is when I start to question or doubt myself that my energy dissipates and my goal stretches farther away into the horizon. Of course, this is true for life in general as well. For runners, their approach to running may be one of the best metaphors for how they live their life.
In the closest thing the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has written to a memoir, he claims that everything he knows about writing he learned by running every day. Just like writing a novel, running takes talent, focus and endurance. While some people may be blessed with more talent than others, focus and endurance are, perhaps, the more important qualities. They make the writer/runner test and push their limits to discover what is possible – and then raise the bar even higher. Talent can wane and fade, come and go as it pleases. Some days a writer struggles to get a good sentence out and some days a runner slogs through a short difficult run. It is the ability to keep going that eventually defines the work – whatever the work may be.
I call myself a runner even though I have never competed in a marathon. In fact, I have never taken part in any sort of race. Some people may think that this fact disqualifies me from the label of “runner.” I, however, do not. Anyone who routinely hits the road, trail or track – whether they do it for a one or ten miles a day – is a runner. Reasons for running may overlap from one person to the next but each person experiences it differently and gains something uniquely personal. Some weeks I may run 10 miles and other weeks I may run 30. There is no magic goal one needs to hit. Mark Oppenheimer (2011) recently wrote, “Runners aren’t like surfers, or hippies, or death-metal dudes. They are alike in that they resist alikeness.” I love this statement.
I do not run to compete against anyone but myself. I run to make body and my mind stronger. I run to work through problems, to work off the previous five hours spent bent over a computer doing homework and to work out the extra pieces of veggie pizza I ate but did not need. There are times that running is the last thing I want to do; however, I always find that when I am actually out there doing it, running and sweating, there is no other place I would rather be. Every time I go running I learn something new.
Over the years that I have been running I have found plenty of people who can not wrap their heads around the reason why anyone would want to go for a run. Unless a person is being chased, running is often thought of as something unnatural by a large portion of the population. Just as they can not understand the pleasure of running a fast mile on a sunny day, I can not understand not doing that. As Bernd Heinrich (2001) notes, “It is natural for us to run…because during our evolution we acquired the genes that allow us to do so…Running well is for us now is a value, not a necessity.”
In the BBC’s Life of Mammals series, Richard Attenborough narrates a persistence hunt typical of how humans lived thousands of years ago. Endurance running was essential to survival.
In an effort to get back to the core of running I have been experimenting with “barefoot” running shoes over the last year. I ran in the Nike Frees for a while and have recently started to use New Balance Minimus. Since I began doing this I have found that I am faster and lighter. I recover more quickly from my run and get injured less. I do not mean to offer barefoot running shoes as a panacea. However, using them has forced me to pay close attention to my stride and to how I land. Putting myself more in touch with my body when I run and forcing me to pay closer attention to my surroundings (don’t want to step on a sharp rock in these) has improved all areas of my running life.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the road is waiting…
Discussed in this blog:
Heinrich, Bernd. Why We Run: A Natural History. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.
Murakami, Haruki. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. New York: Random House, 2008. Print.
Oppenheimer, Mark. ” The Race That Is Not About Winning.” The Believer March/April 2011: 27-32. Print.