Running and Exploring

I got lost in my own backyard last week. Okay, not literally, but pretty close to it. I went for a five mile run that included an out-and-back on a short trail by a nearby lake. On the way back, I decided to explore a little, and discovered a whole network of trails I never knew existed- and this is about a mile and a half from my house, mind you. It was in a fairly small area, but there must have been a dozen trails. Most weren’t well-maintained, and it didn’t require a large leap of imagination to see some of the locations as prime serial-killer real estate, but it was actually beautiful. And I even got a little lost, which was easy because of the large number of short, winding trails with no markers.

The nicest part about it was knowing that this was so close to my home, and yet it looked so drastically different. I even saw a bit of wildlife- if you count a chipmunk and a bright orange bird as wildlife, that is. There were also campers, which is extremely unusual for that area. Unless those were the serial killers I mentioned earlier…

It would have been more pleasant if I had taken water, though, it was humid and in the 80’s. But it was the first time in a while that I used running as a real means of exploration, with no map or planning of a route, and it was a lot of fun.

Why We Run

Approach someone on the street. Look him in the eye and ask, “if you had the choice, would you rather be in bed right now or breathless, nauseas, and in pain?” Odds are he’ll answer the former.

It’s a simple question: Why do we run? Why do we wake early, put ourselves in painful, uncomfortable situations, and continue to do it day in and day out? What drives this madness?

I believe there is a two-part answer: the first part involves why we started running way back when, and the second involves how we got hooked.

I can’t really speak for others, but I know why I started running: to lose weight. I was fifteen pounds overweight and hated dieting. Running seemed a nice way to lose some weight without doing too much in the dieting department. But the reason for that very first time we decided to go out and cause ourselves some pain is different for each person. For some, like me, weight loss. For others, a personal challenge just to see if they can do it. Or for general health reasons. Or a way to keep in shape when you’re involved with other sports. Or peer pressure (it seems like everybody runs these days).

Whatever the reason was, we all did it. We went out for that first serious run. For me, weight loss, peer pressure (my whole family was doing it), and setting a personal challenge all played a role. And to be honest, I didn’t make it through the first mile of that run. But it doesn’t matter anymore, because every 6 or 10 or 15 mile run when I pass that spot where I stopped that first time, I can smile to myself.

But regardless of the reason we initially started running, why do we continue? I lost my weight and showed myself that I was up to the challenge- so why bother doing it anymore? Haven’t I reached my goals already? We keep going, because, as we all know, running is addictive. It is more than a hobby; for many of us, it is an obsession. I struggled into shape by running, sometimes hating it but at other times appreciating what it was doing for me. But somewhere during my first few months of running I caught the running bug. I was hooked. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. I can’t point to one particular run and say, “Yep- halfway through that run I promised never to cut short a long run no matter how badly my pulled hamstring hurts.” Or, “during that run is when I decided that dehydration should never be a good enough reason to stop a run.” It was a gradual process that pulled me deeper and deeper into running than I even realized. Those decisions I mentioned weren’t decided on as a policy when I started running, and if you had asked me when I first started running if I would agree with them, I’m sure I’d have laughed scoffingly and say “I’m no idiot.”

Well, I’m proud to say, running has transformed me into ‘that idiot.’ Of course I realize that I should stop when I feel an injury coming on, but I’m not alone in doing stupid things when it comes to running. In fact, I’m in fairly good company- Meb Keflezighi (better known as just Meb), winner of last year’s New York Marathon, kept running through a serious injury that came back to haunt him. A non-runner might look at that and think that he was stupid. But we runners know better. We know that he was just being a runner.