I’m a runner, which means I run.
To be quite frank, I spend a lot of time running these days.
But why do I do this?
I think the best way to answer this question is to give the most straightforward I can manage. Like a lot of things in life, a full answer is probably quite complex. It would involve citing facts about my history with running, looking at various things I find attractive about running and the circumstances I currently find myself in. This full answer would probably take a book, and there are already a number of books about this that are quite popular.
There are two books that I think a lot of runners say accurately describe their relationship to the sport: Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” and Matthew Inman’s “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances”. Both authors talk about the idea that when they run, they can silence a lot of the worries and concerns they have at the moment. They say that they run long distances to acquire a void – a moment of freedom where all you are doing is moving.
I’ve had that sort of moment while running, and I’d be lying if I said that having that feeling isn’t a part of why I run. But it’s only a part. A lot of the time the worries and concerns that I have come along for the run. And running further doesn’t make them go away.
But here’s the other thing: running can be joyful and exhilarating.
Think of a dog just let off a leash. Think of Phoebe from Friends.
Sometimes, moving quickly through a space is a kind of playing – there’s no point to it aside from the feeling of moving. And in all honesty, that’s the feeling I’m after when I run. It’s not a zen-like moment of void. It’s the rush of joy I feel when I’m bombing a long hill just at the limit of how fast my feet can keep up with my body. It’s the twisted feeling of fun when my lungs are burning as I turn the last bend on a track and I can just pour everything I have left to carry me towards the finish line. I get that feeling tapping along on a good road run as my legs, arms and lungs all work in harmony.
So I’ll train and try to be competitive with myself and with other people. I’ll go out for 3-4 hours at a time. And there’ll be runs where I’m cold, sweaty, hungry, sore or miserable. And sometimes I’ll find the void. Other times it’ll be because of the people I’ll be with. But what the main draw for me? The feeling of joy and freedom that comes from moving.
You might recognize that this feeling doesn’t need to come from running.
And you’re right. I’ve found this feeling in a lot of other places. I’ve had this feeling cycling, as I’ve flicked a road bike through a chicane on a descent. I’ve had this feeling flowing through a series of yoga poses. And I’ve certainly had this feeling in downhill skiing. I’ve had this feeling dancing at weddings. The joy of movement is something we can have in a lot of places and in a lot of activities.
But, I get that feeling from pushing myself running too. And I’ll chase that feeling as long as I’m able to.