The Love of Losing

Let me tell you a little secret about elite runners…we’re completely scared of running.

Well, we’re scared of failing at running…and more specifically, of GIVING UP on running. We’re ultimately scared of ourselves. We love running, don’t get me wrong, and we love training, putting in 20 milers on the weekends before most of the world wakes up, pushing ourselves to complete mental and physical exhaustion during speed workouts, repeating the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other for days into weeks into months into years, and even the sensation of completely freaking out for the days leading up to any specific goal race (or any race for that matter actually). We love it, just like any other runner, we love it all. Hell, we HAVE to love it if we’re going to put that much effort into an activity that affords us very little external reward than the satisfaction of simply doing so.

But equally, we’re just as scared as anyone else of STOPPING running.

We can’t imagine our lives without it, but the impetus to stop running…to just leave our shoes next to the door, to pull the covers over our head every morning, to spend the day relaxing while we drink coffee, read books or any of those other normal, passive activities…well, the siren call is quite strong. Very strong.

And we’re scared of our willingness to listen to that siren call of warm beds and heavy blankets and just simply NOT RUN. It scares us so much that we, in a way, punish ourselves for even considering it. Or we scream at ourselves so loudly that we try to drown out the siren call before it even gets close to our ears. Personally, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve berated myself for not getting up as early as possible to get my run in before the day starts, only to see other runners pounding the pavement, and then almost angrily drive home to throw on my shoes and get back into the streets. I see the same drive in my friends, teammates, and social media friends who walk back and forth on the planks of guilt for thinking of running and not doing so, or who fill their character limits with motivational quotes that speak more of convincing themselves to go run than inspiring others to do so.

It’s funny, because we berate ourselves again and again in fear that if we just take it easy, sleep in this morning, or do something that is entirely NOT RUNNING, that we may never do it again! We’ll just quit on the spot and start using the phrase “…once a runner” instead of “Once a runner…”. But we also know, deep down, that this is entirely absurd. In the moment we freak out…

“Oh god…I don’t feel like running today. I’m just tired. I’m unmotivated. I just can’t imagine getting out there and starting to run. Shit…I’m done. It’s over. I’ve given up. I can’t keep this up anymore. I’m burned out.” Etc. etc. etc.

But give that person one day…just ONE DAY without running…and all of a sudden the messages and tone becomes the exact opposite…

“I gotta run! I love it! I’m getting faster! I’m running further! I can’t imagine anything else I’d rather be doing!”

And so on. The pendulum swings back and forth, something that feels like both a blessing and curse depending upon which direction it’s swinging.

I was certainly no different in these considerations. I was angry with myself when I skipped out on a morning run more out of fatigue and laziness rather than injury or rest day. I berated myself for justifying taking a day off here and there under false pretenses. I was scared of quitting, of letting myself sink back into my warm bed in the morning and then never getting out again, drawn in by the comfort and ease of passivity.

And now…well, I AM scared of that same consideration…this time forced into a state of relative passivity, of deteriorating running fitness, compromised strength and unpredictable inconsistency. There is no way around it, and although I can recognize these obstacles thrown in front of my desire to run as unavoidable and not of my own making, they don’t help ease my concern that I could just quit if I wanted to or that I’ll never regain the fire that woke me up every morning for years to put in absurd amounts of miles and speed trying to reach my lofty running goals.

Though, I’ll tell you, I’ve come to understand something from this unique position of looking back at my running…it’s ridiculous. That fire doesn’t die. It may lose fuel as we burn it, but regenerates stronger with every flickering…and that fear of quitting isn’t because we actually doubt ourselves or that we WANT to quit…it’s there because we desperately DON’T want to quit.

We’re scared of quitting running because of how much value it adds to our lives, how much satisfaction we get from it, how it essentially completes us and feeds into the core of our being. It’s something to LOSE, and so when we decide that for some temporary period we don’t want to run, we inevitably fear that we are going to lose something we so intensely want to keep.

It’s the pain of true love.

From my new disadvantaged position in life (or advantaged depending on how we look at it) I’ve come to really feel the fear of losing. There were times when, throughout this cancer experience, I didn’t really feel like I had a lot to lose and so could go about the process without much emotional struggle, but as I came to recognize more and more that I had and wanted to hold onto, it became a catch-22. I now had great things in my life, but now also had them to lose in death. It’s the love of a child. The love in a relationship. The love of an incomplete process.

And our love of running is no different. We so desperately want to hold onto it, to never lose it, that we fear ourselves and our desires to quit.

But here I am, really unable to run anymore. Yeah, I run, a maximum of 5 miles at a time, inconsistently, and not near the speed or ease that I used to be able to…and where I have a VERY COMPELLING reason to stop running, where I can choose to “take it easy” every morning, or pull the covers over my head from here on out…and although most of the time I’m forced to do that…the fire inside still burns strong…very strong, making me realize how ridiculous it is to actually think we can quit this thing called competitive running. Yeah, taking the easy way out every once in a while is enticing and we do engage in it from time to time, but the concern that doing so means we’re done, we’re through, washed up..well…that’s just ridiculous.

‘Cause I’ll tell you something, I can barely run right now and I still don’t know what my future holds, but I can tell you that the second I’m either cleared of cancer or the chemo that is preventing me from running is halted, I’m going to take off out the door like I’ve been in a starting position since last April. There is simply no quitting. No comfortable passivity can ever outlast the desire, reward and value of getting out there to run, to feel post-workout satisfied fatigue, of crashing through the woods, of all the frustration and accomplishment that comprises this drive within us.

Believe me, I understand the fear of quitting, the self-flagellation, the siren songs of warm beds and soft pillows, but I now also know these competing desires come from a position of having something we can’t bare to consider losing….because right now I’ve all but lost that love…but that fire still stays burning deep inside, and the heat is far warmer than any number of blankets piled on top of me.

Friends, it’s ok to fear losing what you love (and sometimes beat yourself up over it), but always know the value of having something so great that it instills such a fear.

6 responses to “The Love of Losing

  1. I can confirm that the fire transfers to whatever activity you find to replace running if you become a “once a runner.” Instead of running 50 miles a week, I do 10-12 hours of athletically demanding yoga each week. I show up at my studio at 6:15 AM and do nothing but bend, twist, and lift my body to nothing but the sound of my own breath for 90 minutes. Every morning, I have to force myself out of bed to do it, resentful as hell that the rest of the world hasn’t even stirred to punch snooze on their alarm clock by the time I’m out the door. Like you say, it isn’t easy.

    But…once you fall in love with pushing your body to its limits, you realize the fear you talk about, the fear of choosing to stop doing it or being forced to stop. And that fear wins, every time. Thanks for reminding us that in order to have that fear, we have to first have something that we love.

    • I completely agree Emma…I was debating discussing that sort of love outside of running, but decided to keep it on a focused topic. I will, however, say that any replacement I’ve tried to running has always have a limited effect for me. I love cycling, hiking, etc. etc. etc., basically anything physical, but nothing every quenched my desire to just run. but yes…you’re point stands. It’s comforting to know we can have alternatives should it become necessary. 🙂

  2. running for me once was a weapon i used to punish myself. but as that darkness passed, running has become a way to fall in love with myself. after this hard autumn, i tore my gracilis and haven’t been running for almost 2 months. the fear of losing that fire, of losing running for an uncertain period of time, caused me to lose that sense of self-worth. this injury threw me into such a deep depression that i’ve had to resort to antidepressants to bring my mind back into balance again. i love the run so much i ache for it. my love of the run goes deep, though, and there is always that burning hope to get out there again, in whatever way possible. as much as running taught me love in high moments, loss of running has revealed to me self love in spite of setbacks and imperfections, love in the wake of loss. loving running creates a sense of love, hope and courage beyond the sport, i think. so. yeah. thanks.

    • Thanks for sharing this Becky…I know how deep your love for running has to if you are going to match Breeden at his game! 🙂

  3. Whew, you had me screaming, “wait a minute!” at the beginning there, and then I read the rest. Yes, it is the fear of losing something you love, something that gives you drive and passion and a unique appreciation and love for life.

    GO AHEAD AND RUN SLOWER. I have no doubt that when you are clear, you will be out that door, flying as freely and beautifully as before, if not in your body right away, for sure in your heart. You are competitive, something I am not, and that drive will push you forward to recover faster. See you on the race course…I’ll be in back, watching you fly.

    • Thanks for these good words dsue. I do hope to be able to get back on that course with you. Until then, run a couple extra miles for me. 🙂

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