Running – or training to be precise – can sometimes feel like an unbalanced or unfair relationship. You do your work every day, putting your time and effort and sweat into making your relationship with running better, and then race day comes, and running doesn’t seem to hold up its end of the deal. If you were dating someone and constantly worked on your relationship and did nice things for them, and they didn’t reciprocate, you would probably dump them. So why do I keep training?
I briefly pondered that today. It was a level and logical question – not an emotional one as I’ve been before. I wasn’t upset at myself for wondering, just thought about it as I had an off day today. I rarely take weekdays off, but I finished up my track season last night and am feeling a little beat up from it. Plus, I haven’t had an extended break besides my usual down weeks once a month since January, so this is instrumental in me making it through all of 2017 healthy.
Back to the question of why I keep at it. I’ve thought before that I could back way off on training and still be semi-competitive. I could probably run 20 minute 5ks and maybe bust out a 19:30 on a good day or a fast course. Depending on the level of competition, I could win some age group awards or maybe even the whole female division. I could spend less time on training, not be as tired, and still scratch that running itch.
But I want more.
I don’t want college to be my peak. I don’t want to just PR in the 5k, I want to take a whopping 24 seconds off and one day break 18 minutes. I want to PR in every event from the 400 to the marathon. And all of that takes a lot of work. Until I stop wanting more, it’ll be worth it to inch ever closer to those goals.
I realized with a smile today that these thoughts closely parallel one of my favorite sections of Once a Runner which is the best book written about competitive distance running. The backstory starts with the main character Cassidy (an elite miler) explaining to his girlfriend Andrea how track is different from other sports since the comparisons across time aren’t subjective.
“In track it’s all there in black and white. Lot of people can’t take that kind of pressure; the ego withers in the face of the evidence. We all carry our little credentials around with us; that’s why the numbers are so important to us, why we’re always talking about them.
“…the point is that we know not only whether we are good, bad, or mediocre, but whether we’re first, third, or a hundred and ninety seventh at any given point…assuming we make the lists. That’s right. Sometimes it is possible, despite your best efforts and a hundred miles a week to not even exist. That, my dear, breaks my heart.”
Disclaimer: I am and never was in the same ballpark as Cassidy (a fictional runner but still). I would be one of those people who didn’t make the lists. I describe myself best as a serious runner and/or a competitive runner. Running is a high priority for me, and I typically race around 75% of age graded results, so that’s good enough for me to say competitive. For me, not being at an elite level doesn’t change the fact that I am training toward goals – the same way someone who is trying to run a whole 5k without walking is.
“But you can beat most of the people around, we know that, right? Isn’t that good, isn’t that what you want?”
Here Andrea echos that voice in my head that sometimes tries to convince me that I don’t need to run 50+ miles a week or lift weights or foam roll. If I can do decently well in local road races, isn’t that enough? For people like Cassidy and me, it’s not. His response gets me amped up every time I read it, and typing it tonight was no exception.
“It’s a simple choice: We can all be good boys and wear our letter sweaters around and get our little degrees and find some nice girl to settle, you know, down with…”
“Or what? What is the alternative?
Andrea doesn’t know what’s coming next.
“Or we can blaze! Become legends in our own time, strike fear in the heart of mediocre talent everywhere! We can scald dogs, put records out of reach! Make the stands gasp as we blow into an unearthly kick from three hundred yards out! We can become God’s own messengers delivering the dreaded scrolls! We can race dark Satan himself till he wheezes fiery cinders down the back straightaway! They’ll speak our names in hushed tones, ‘Those guys are animals’ they’ll say! We can lay it on the line, bust a gut, show them a clean pair of heels. We can sprint the turn on a spring breeze and feel the winter leave our feet! We can, by God, let our demons loose and just wail on!”
So that’s why I keep training. I have goals that demand more than mediocrity of me, and I have enough fire in me to put my head down and grit my way through a final kick or another interval rep around the track. Finish times might be black and white, but records are meant to be broken, so while I am in this stage of life – settled, few responsibilities (aka no kiddos), and healthy – I’m going to keep chasing them.