If you have read this blog for more than thirty seconds, you have probably picked up on the fact that I really love running. For better or for worse, over the past three years or so running has become a HUGE part of my life. Most of my friends think of me as “the runner,” they come to me for advice on minimalist shoes, tease me about my penchant for going barefoot, and ask me when my next big race is. I spend a lot of time writing about running on this blog, or having my thoughts published elsewhere. I love being thought of as “the runner.” I also spend a lot of time running, too (strangely enough). For the last month or two my mileage has gone down, while I dedicate more of my free time and energy toward our cross-country move. And I am starting to feel the difference down to my bones.
I need to run. It’s my exercise, my escape, my reward, my alone time and my social hour. Running is where I learn the most about myself. It’s where I feel the most accomplished, and sometimes it’s where I fall the hardest. Running has renewed my self-confidence, and it has also broken my heart.
Last Sunday I lined up at the back of a pack of runners at a local 10-mile trail race, pumped full of nervous energy. The race started off really well, and for a trail run my pace was excellent. But in an unexpected turn of events, I couldn’t finish the race. At mile 7 I started to feel some pretty bad stomach cramps and I had to listen to my body and drop out. As I jogged uncomfortably toward the end of the third loop (and the porta-johns), I passed by a running friend of mine who had finished with an impressive personal record and was so kindly waiting to see me cross the finish line. It killed me to announce that I was dropping, because I wasn’t even tired yet….and also because I had spend the last year or two talking so much shop with him and others I’ve never met on Facebook, that it doubled my shame.
In my growing love for this sport, I have spent years waxing poetic with people about running, and it turns out it’s been enough to make them all believe I’m some kind of runner.
But right then I didn’t feel much like one. Instead I felt like a bit of a poseur. And I felt even more like a poseur later on that very afternoon, when I just happened to decide to sign up for my first marathon. The two events of the day were not even related in my mind. To me, a bad ten-miler today really has no bearing on a marathon that’s happening in five months. But, I can see how it may have looked sort of weird to someone else. If I couldn’t finish a ten miler today, what would motivate me to sign up for a marathon? Am I just digging myself a hole to fill with failures?
Perhaps this dude doesn’t even think of me as a poseur, who knows. But even if he does I don’t suppose it would make much of a difference to me anyway. Despite my wordy posts on the subject, at the end of the day I don’t really care what anyone thinks about me as a runner (hence my lack of hesitation in signing up for that marathon). I’m certainly not a great or talented runner, and I’ve never tried to make others think that I am. I just like to run, and that’s all the promises I’ve ever made to anyone.
But on the other hand, is signing up for something like a marathon or a 50K a promise? Is it a promise that I’ll have trained well enough to complete the race in a decent amount of time (preferably, well before the embarrassingly long cutoff time)? Are my shoe and swag reviews my promise that I’ll consistently be running 30-mile weeks? Is my signature at the bottom of an ultra-marathon application a contract that I’ll at least keep up with the runners in the middle of the pack, rather than closer to the back where I typically end up? Or am I letting my readers and my friends down if my pace is slower than 9:30, or if I drop out of a race or, god-forbid, wind up finishing dead-fucking-last?
What kind of expectation am I setting up for myself by writing an entire blog about training and signing up for all these big races? If I’m not all that great a runner in the end, is my influence on others essentially all smoke in mirrors?
Truth is, I never meant to be influential (nor do I really believe I am). It is amazing, however, whenever I hear that I’ve inspired somebody to start running, or that they became interested in barefoot running after they read an article in my blog. I’ve got nothing but confidence about my talents for writing. But all I’ve ever wanted to do was use that writing talent of mine to share my love for running (and geek out about running shoes) with my readers…whomever they are. I’ve never meant to fool anyone into thinking I’m a great ultra marathoner. I’m not. I’m a deeply flawed runner with much more will and drive than natural talent. And I happen to get a huge kick out of setting high goals and writing about how I work toward them. I make mistakes, I fall, and I write about that too. And then I set even higher goals. This blog is a documentation of my personal journey, not a sermon on great running.
So far I haven’t figured out how to turn off that feeling of fraudulence that happens every time I meet a talented runner who also happens to read my blog. Nor the feeling of injustice that comes with being reminded of how unskilled a runner I actually am, despite how much I know and love the sport. Yet none of this comes with an expectation that others should pity me or waste any time encouraging me to continue. I don’t really need encouragement to keep on running and signing up for races, and I think that’s what perplexes people the most.
I run because I want to get better at running, sure…but mostly I run just because. And whether I suck at it or not, because is enough of a reason.