Long distance runners are indeed a bizarre group of people. To ‘normal’ folks who find comfort in stillness, pleasure in overindulgence, and reassurance in conformity, the distance runner is an enigma. I know this because I was not always a runner. There was a time that I scoffed at runners and the strange counterculture of running. But, now I know better.
Running appears to be an activity that punishes the body and bores the mind. But runners know that those assumptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. Running reveals the body’s true physical form and frees the mind to explore ideas with abandon. When I am running, I am as close to meeting my true potential, as I will ever be.
If runners cause consternation among regular folks, marathoners appear to be quite unhinged. The marathon runner is viewed as an ascetic; a person who deprives themselves of life’s pleasures and punishes themselves with endless miles in an attempt to reach running perfection.
The word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis, which means practice, bodily exercise, and more especially, athletic training. People often associate asceticism with religious zealots and extremists who use fasting, physical punishment, and other forms of bodily penance to achieve virtue. If used to describe the athlete as the Greeks intended, then yes, we marathoners are ascetics.
The endurance athlete knows the exquisite feeling of pushing oneself to the very edge, only to discover a fount of strength and spirit within themselves to push further. This belief in a superior version of ourselves is what propels us forward in races, sustains us during long months of training, and validates our passion for running.
However, we do not deprive ourselves of life’s pleasures. In fact, some may argue that we are self-indulgent and egocentric. The long distance runner cherishes the awareness that comes from observing the natural world on foot, the freedom to meditate for hours without interruption, and the pride that comes from improving the physical body through arduous physical training.
All this comes at an expense to those around us. Runners aren’t very dependable. We can recite our personal records, splits and pace per mile for almost any distance on the roads, trails, and track. However, we generally arrive late and leave early from appointments. We tend to think big picture and let the little things remain that way.
We often forgo opportunities to mingle and socialize and make new friends. It’s not that we don’t like to have fun, it’s just that we have different priorities. We barely have time to run as it is. Social engagements and additional friends complicate things even further.
So please excuse our tardiness and our lack of enthusiasm for social engagements. In return, you will have our undivided attention when we are with you, our honest appraisal of those things in life that really matter, and a friend whose loyalty knows no bounds. Let us run, and we will come back tired and grateful for everything we have.
The next time you see a runner plodding along a lonely road with no apparent destination, you can be assured that the journey is what’s most important. What we learn about ourselves during those long miles makes us better people when we return home.