A while back my coach challenged me with thinking about “why” I run. This, I can promise you, many runners do a lot of the time ourselves, even without someone asking. Like when we set an alarm for 4:30 to go running in the summer to get our mileage in before it gets too hot. Or when we dress like the Nanook of the North to go for a run in the winter. Or before we embark on some distance most people wouldn’t normally do. This one is hard to quantify because that number is very variable. For the non-runner, even three miles sounds like a lot. Whereas many distance runners wouldn’t balk until one gets over 10 miles, for others maybe even more.
I’ve been working out pretty regularly since last year’s marathons. However, I have mainly done OrangeTheory Fitness workouts as my primary form of exercise. From an exercise and fitness point of view, doing a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) class several days a week is great! It certainly is a solid workout and is absolutely better than not going to the gym at all. It’s a challenging and high calorie burning workout that is a good bit of fun. However, from the endurance running point of view, it does not give the time on feet that a distance runner needs to be, well, a distance runner. That can only be achieved in one of a few places- the road, a track or the treadmill, also known as the “dreadmill.”
Chicago winters aren’t often terribly amenable to road running. Working up the energy to run on a treadmill can be harder than preparing to down a couple tablespoons of cod liver oil. Sure, it might be good for you. It doesn’t mean you want to do it. Days like today are a gift. It was 45 degrees and relatively calm winds. The perfect day to get in a road run. The snow we got before Chicago turned into Chiberia started to melt rapidly yesterday, the first day of relatively warm temps. So the roads/paths were a combination of puddles, slush and ice patches. It was still however, dreamy. My coach had eight miles on my training plan. The last time I did that sort of distance was December 22. Before that, it was the Dublin Marathon. Like I said, I’ve been good about working out. But my sport of choice? Meh.
So today, I was determined to get out there. I got my gear on and hit the streets. It felt great. I used an app that I like called Aaptiv. It is a coaching app that guides you through different runs. This one matched what I planned to do. Besides having a soundtrack, it’s nice to have someone throw out pointers like “relax your shoulders” or “aim for a mid foot strike” or “think fast feet.” All of these things are things runners need to do anyway. Having literally a voice in your ear reminding you, is perfect.
Running is also a perfect time to zone out. On this particular run, when I hit a stretch where I didn’t have to sidestep puddles or dance like a ballerina over a patch of ice that appeared out of the blue, I was able to get into my head. Enter my “Why?”…
As I ran by many runners, I thought of the community of running. There were many people with shirts or jackets on from races I’ve run. Many of them wearing Chicago Marathon gear. There is a camaraderie when one passes by someone. There’s a silent understanding and appreciation of what we endured together. The funny thing is I’m just realizing that endure is a derivative of endurance. Of course on the one hand that is obvious. However, from the definition of an “endurance athlete”, I hadn’t quite associated the two before. Oxford defines “endure” as “to suffer (something painful or difficult) patiently.” It defines “endurance” as “The capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear.” I can tell you both of these are true for running. To persist through the physical and mental challenges is something that one does both alone and with people. For the most part, one has to do it oneself. Nobody can finish a run for you. But boy is it nice to not be in it alone! Even when one is running alone, seeing others doing what you are doing makes you part of the community. This community shares many commonalities including debatable insanity.
Community is also being part of something bigger than oneself. For me, running with a team has been that. I have enjoyed making new friendships, working towards a common goal and raising funds for a cause. Being part of my team has made me a better person. It has given me people to lean on when I didn’t think I could. It has allowed me to be there for others when they didn’t think they could. Community is therefore another one of my “whys.”
The other realization for me today was I enjoy the exclusivity of endurance running. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this one. But it is one of the things that has driven me and continues to drive me. So I would be both lying to say it wasn’t true and also, maybe more importantly, not being true to myself with it. One of the appeals of marathon running for me is that relatively few people have done it. This is something that seems odd to me because I feel like I know so many people who have run marathons. According to Runner’s World, .5%of the US population have run a marathon. I’m not sure how accurate that number is. I’ve also heard people kick around 1%. Regardless, it’s a relative few and therefore an exclusive bunch. Does that make me pretentious? Maybe. I really don’t know. But it is something that motivates me. Wearing one of my marathon shirts always gives me a boost on a run. It’s a reminder that “Yes, I can.” And sort of like how with any monogrammed designer good, one doesn’t carry it for its discretion. If this were true, people wouldn’t be getting held up in Chicago for their Canada Goose jackets. The same is sort of true for wearing a race shirt. I feel a little douchey admitting it. I’m gonna guess I’m not alone in this since I see my compatriots in their attire, too. But when I’m about to head out for the longest run I’ve been on in a few months, it’s a boost. One that allows me to tap into that inner confidence, that positive voice that is so important to hear. The one that has to battle with the negative guy all the time. The one who is always nagging with “I dunno. I bet you can’t do it.” If gear from a race or a finisher’s jacket that I may or may not bought (depending on whether my husband is reading this or not) gives me that encouragement to continue, it’s a small price. So, exclusivity is another one of my “why’s.”
Finally, probably the most important why, is for the physical benefits I get from running. Even if I’m not currently happy with my weight, the fact that I can run 8.5 miles in a reasonable amount of time means I’m doing right by my heart, my lungs, my body, my mind and my kids.
Conditioning oneself to run longer distances means you sort of have to do a number of things. By have to, I’m talking ideally. But generally speaking, one needs to eat right, get good sleep, drink moderately and think positively. If you mistreat your body by having a few too many before a long run, you will know it. You will feel it. Let’s face it. If you’re committed to doing something and you are the type to follow through with your commitments, you probably don’t want it to be a miserable time, unless you’re a masochist. Not judging if you are. But that certainly isn’t my idea of a good time.
Don’t fuel with the right foods and again you will notice it. You may be sluggish or you may find yourself running for a bathroom somewhere. All it takes is an El Grande burrito the night before a long run for one to think twice the next time. If you spring for high test gas for your car, doesn’t your body deserve to be fueled the same way? Don’t go drinking gas now. You know what I mean.
The best investment in myself is not just for myself at all. It sort of is, but it’s mainly for my kids. I’m a later in life dad. As such, I want to be sure that I’m around for as much of their lives as possible. The better I treat myself, the better my chances are of seeing them get married and have kids. So today’s 8.5 miles had many why’s. As did each of my runs before and the ones that I haven’t run yet. But now I need to go tuck in my two most important why’s – my babies.