At some point every runner tries to justify why they run. Sometimes the question is asked by friends or family. Sometimes you ask yourself this question when you find yourself cold and wet halfway through a 20-mile run.
Why I run was recently brought into focus by two events that wrecked my December training schedule. The first was, as best the doctors could tell, some form of walking pneumonia. I have been hit harder for shorter periods of time by a good flu or cold, but this one made the idea of running laughable for more than a week. I was fortunate in that it was not very contagious and that I recovered in time for the second big training disruptor – the birth of our first child. Now, having a child has not meant no running, but I have been running less as I try to balance my runs with doing my share of diaper changing and keeping up the house (and not even to a particularly high standard). I will be forgoing my favorite race, the Cabot Trail Relay, this year and it is hard to make group tempo runs and speedworks that start at 6:45 A.M. on five cumulative hours of interrupted sleep (I know this does not sound bad to some people, but I have gotten used to seven or eight hours).
And yet, in spite of not doing a speedwork for over a month and knowing that my leg-speed is a few notches off my peak, I am thoroughly enjoying my six-mile runs. So on one of my runs this week I contemplated what is it that makes my runs so rewarding.
I feel that it is first important to look at the secondary reasons. First, I enjoy being in shape. It’s fun to see the look on the nurse’s face when I go in for a check-up and they see that my resting pulse is below 50. Second, I like beating people in races. If you and I are toe-to-toe with a half-mile to go, I am going to try to out-kick you and expect the same from you. I like not having to worry about what I eat. I try to eat less meat, more vegetables and choose less processed foods. But I also do not worry about having the occasional burger or beer(s).
As near as I can pinpoint, I run because I feel immense joy. If you want to look at this on a purely scientific basis, you could chalk it up to endorphins, vitamin D (from the 300 days of sun that we get here on Colorado’s Front Range) and other internal reward mechanisms. I prefer to call it joy.
Admittedly, I do not always feel this joy immediately when I first get out of bed, but it gets me out of bed because I know that it will be there a mile into the run. And there are some days when things just do not click or it is 35 °F, windy and raining and I find myself under-dressed halfway into the run. But when I get back and think of what I made it through the joy is there.
I feel this joy throughout the run and often throughout the day when I look back on the run. I think of seeing the sun light up Green and Bear peak a bright pink-red. I think of running through the trees of the Mesa Trail. I am a better person when I run. My wife has come to recognize this and will now tell me to go on a run if I miss a few days and am getting cranky.
So there you have it. Perhaps I got a bit deep in my cup with this one, but if I cannot discuss joy around the holidays I do not know when I could. It is time to rest up for tomorrow’s run.