For non-runners, it is forgivable should they look at our training with disdain, judgement and disgust. Their scowling, though sedentary, mimics the expressions on our faces as we push ourselves through varying states of effort and struggle, and so it is understandable when they exclaim just how much they DON’T want to do what we do. It looks like we suffer. It looks like we are unhappy. It looks very UNFUN.
If one merely looked at these more strenuous visions – juxtaposed against a training calendar that fills each day with a period of running, linked to a succession of weeks that comprise a month, coupled with even more to create a training block, that overlaps into an obsessiveness that circles a year – the idea of runners as sadists becomes hard to counter. Maybe we aren’t running towards something, but away from something else. Maybe it’s not about the running…but about some internal imbalance.
But we know, there is something else to it. There is an element to our daily physical efforts that betrays the looks on our faces. In truth, we enjoy it. We enjoy the struggle, the adversity, the stress and strain…even if not in the immediate sense, even if not written in the creases of skin funneling sweat between our brows.
Yes, we know it’s more than that. It’s more than a succession of daily physical struggle, a pushing against the perceived weight of blanketing humidity or the stinging pain of sub zero air. It’s more than an unending, seemingly unstoppable, loop around the proverbial track, out of control hamster wheel, glitched out treadmill. It’s more than a calendar filled with 10 mile runs every day every day every day.
It is a moment.
Or moments. We struggle and we strain and we spin the wheel over and over because somewhere in the effort, no matter how much difficulty we suffer through to get to it, we find a moment. We find an experience that is unmatched by any other attempt in our days, and there is only one way to get there. Put one foot in front of the other. Into the heat. Into the humidity. Into the accumulated weakness. Into the freezing cold. Into the struggle against ourselves.
It’s hard to make it sound NOT masochistic.
And yet, all the fighting dissipates when we find that moment, where it lies. Sometimes the moment doesn’t come until the run has completely stopped, the mileage has been logged, and a gentle, drawn out sense of satisfaction weaves in and out of our consciousness for the rest of the day. Sometimes the moment comes before it’s even registered, coming out of a daydream only to realize our body is fluid, the pace is quick, and the effort is easy. Sometimes the moment starts the second we do, filling our bodies with a power and strength that alludes the days, weeks, months of accumulated fatigue we’ve attempted to build into our legs and lungs.
Then there is the definitive, measurable moment of a goal, an aspiration, a quantifiable point from A to B on race day, where we put all the previous exertions, struggles, and strains on the line, the starting line, to create what we hope will be a monumental moment when we leave A behind and reach that definitive B. That moment, oddly enough, can feel awful. It can feel slow, and weak, and impossibly difficult, but the clock doesn’t lie and no matter how terrible the run itself may feel, the sense of accomplishment when one achieves a new PR is a moment that can’t be discredited by all the countless days of work that preceded.
Such a moment is tenuous though. To put all one’s measure of success and worth into a definitive time between A and B is risky. All it takes is an unprimed body, a doubtful mind, or an unavoidable shift in unwelcome weather, and every difficult moment it took to get to the start line becomes an added weight to the hopeful experience.
But we keep at it.
Because the moment is not at the finish line. The moments we seek are in every run we begin. The human animal has been shaped by evolution to endure. We’ve developed the capacity to manage through the most torturous, unimaginable conditions, but not for the sake of enduring alone, but because we find ways to create moments no matter how small, in anticipation of finding bigger ones. So when the non-runners shake their heads in misunderstanding of our motives, it’s because they don’t understand just how valuable the moments are, just how fantastic they feel, just how rewarding they become. They can’t see past the labored breathing, the creased brows, the focused gaze, to the moments we propel ourselves toward, whether that be one mile later, when the run ends, or days thereafter. Hell, they can’t see the moment even when it moves right past them.
Our training calendars look like descriptors of self-flagellation. They look like the scribblings of the deeply troubled, the obsessives, the delusional, but we know within each brutal workout, each mileage total, each long run, each repetitive interval, lies a moment that can’t be put into words, can’t be fully conveyed, and can’t be understood…until it is experienced.
Like it’s as necessary as drinking water, as inherent as breathing, the moment is why we struggle, why we strain, why we suffer…why we run.