Last night my husband and I did something extremely unusual, at least for us, and attended an adult party. The party was hosted by the parents of some of our children’s friends. The attendees included a mix of other local parents, some of whom we know fairly well and some only by face, and friends of the hosts from their Korean Church. The concept was to teach a bunch of philistine Americans about Canadian Thanksgiving – complete with ice luge (I leave you to figure that out for yourself) and Turducken (which was delicious).
When faced with a group of people who I know only in passing, I often find myself discussing my training. After all how better to decline multiple trips to the ice luge than to use “marathon training” as an excuse (that and being the designated driver saved me from certain peer pressure). Early in the party I met a fellow runner, or maybe former runner is more accurate. This man had qualified for Boston in his grad school years and subsequently burned out and stopped racing. We had an interesting conversation about the difference between recreational racing (how I would describe my running career) and hard-core time goal driven running. He was fascinated by the concept of just enjoying the journey and doing the best you can without making the finish time an ongoing and obsessive quest. Not that I wasn’t gunning for a sub-2:30 last weekend but when you consider that my Magic Mile time was predicting a sub-2:20 potential, perhaps my goal could (should?) have been more aggressive.
My second running-related conversation was even more perplexing. I mean I truly understand that the “need for speed” can undermine any enjoyment that distance running confers. This time I was talking to a really nice women (a new friend, I would say)with a daughter in the same grade as my daughter. She admits to being a chronic “over-achiever” – a designation that could probably be applied to me. The concept that she couldn’t understand is why on Earth I would choose to spend time running (waste time?) when my life is so over-scheduled already. Wasn’t training for racing just another source of stress? Wasn’t I worried about injury? Why oh why would I do this to myself?
And so I forced to explain in words to a near stranger the joy of distance running.
Why am I hooked on running? It is hard to explain in words. How do you explain, while sounding like a sane and rational being, that waking up at 2:30am and taking a monorail to Epcot with a bunch of strangers so you can run 13.1 or 26.2 or 39.3 miles is exhilarating in a way that defies explanation? That meeting people while you freeze your buns off in the starting corral (or sweat buckets in the case of Tower of Terror) and feeling the nervous energy build as you anticipate the starting fireworks provides more joy than any drink or drug on this planet? Pushing your body to the limit and then going another mile or two or six just to prove you can lets you realize that maybe you have no limits? And then that moment. That magical moment when some fabulous volunteer hangs a big shiny medal around your neck and you realize you are capable of setting a goal and achieving it?
Forget that for a moment. Let’s talk about the training…
I lead a crazy life. 5:30am alarm clocks. On call 50% of the time. Early mornings. Some late nights. Coordinating schedules of three busy children with endless activities and birthday parties. Why would I choose a time-consuming hobby like marathon running? Let’s start easy. During my week I have very little time that I call my own. Yes I drive about 20 min each way to work but I hardly call driving in NY traffic “time to myself.”. So when do I think? Or breath? Or laugh? Or cry? During my runs, of course. I remember last December during marathon training. My son was having a terrible time at school and it was tearing us all apart. At 5am on Saturdays I’d start my long run. In the still dark, pre-dawn. Cold and still. Peaceful and quiet. Christmas lights shining on a few homes. No cars. No talking. Cheaper than therapy. I loved those early morning long runs!
I suppose that if finishing time is the only reason you’re running, running becomes a job. Getting faster has been a side effect of my e-coaching and new-found consistency but that’s not WHY I run. I’d run even if I knew I’d always be a back of the pack runner. And after all we’re all supposed to exercise at least 3 times a week. Two of those are only for 30-45 min. What’s wrong with having 2-3 hours of exercise (or 4 or 6) every few weeks?
I’m still not sure I satisfied my new friend with a reasonable explanation of my running. And maybe it all is just another example of over-achieving but I don’t think that’s it.