“Run often. Run long. But never outrun your joy of running.”
– Julie Isphording, 1984 U.S. Olympic Marathon Team
Over the holidays, we received the usual assortment of timely Christmas cards and season’s greetings from friends and family, many of whom I hadn’t seen in a while—a global pandemic, as it turns out, will put the kibosh on one’s social life like nothing else. Some of this outreach even contained thoughtful handwritten notes, among them this sentiment that stuck in my mind: “Glad you’re still running!”
Which got me thinking, once the eggnog wore off—Why wouldn’t I still be running?
Granted, I get why non-runners might expect my enthusiasm for the sport to have waned; after all, I’ve yet to wake up younger than the day before. Simply put, running is physically and mentally hard (though mounting evidence suggests it’s actually good for your knees). And discipline and sacrifice are the keys to success. So if you’re looking for an easy and forgiving hobby, you’re on the fast train to disappointment.
Then again, as Coach Jimmy Dugan (played by a young Tom Hanks) astutely points out in A League of Their Own, “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
But it’s more than just the “hard” that makes this sport great for all ages and skill levels. It’s that no matter who you are or how you approach it, running is your sport. Whether you’re driven to qualify for Boston every time you toe the start line or more likely to run a 5K dressed as a hot dog, running is what you make of it.
Therein lies its beauty, its ethos, its popularity, and its power—like a best friend or faithful companion, the sport remains accessible whenever we need a healthy pick-me-up, morale booster or stress reliever. And while we may step away for weeks or even years at a time, it never hesitates to welcome us back. No matter if we choose to run the electrifying streets of New York City with 50,000+ others or a quiet dirt trail alone in the woods, running is the most personal of all sports. And its loyalty is unconditional.
On RaceRaves, we ask our members to complete the following on their Staging Area (profile) page: “I run because ____.” This seemingly straightforward exercise helps us understand what motivates high achievers to embrace the early winter mornings, the many months of training and the long, slow weekend runs, all of it at the expense of other opportunities (as any injured runner can attest, not running frees up a lot of time). And though a few familiar motives—improved health, weight loss and “because I can” among them—surface with greater frequency, the truth is there are as many reasons to run as there are runners.
Not only that, but for most of us our own reasons change and evolve over time, in some cases dramatically so. What starts as a desire to get (and stay) in shape may become a quest to run in all 50 states, or vice versa. Life is a tapestry of ever-evolving motivation, and few of us maintain the same motivation across decades. Which only makes sense.
“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life,” urges author Robin Sharma. Just as our mind, body and motivation change over time, so too should our approach to the sport we love. As a fact of life, we all slow down. But a 12-minute mile is the same distance as a 6-minute mile, and we all cross the same finish line. Besides, how often do others ask about your finish times? If your friends and family are like mine, I’m guessing the more common question elicited by your finisher’s medal is, “Did you win?” Or maybe “How far was this marathon?”
Visitors to my own Staging Area page discover I run because “it always gets me where I want to go.” This, too, is my wish for each of you. May running always take you where you want to go. May you never grow tired of the journey. And may your passion for the most personal of all sports survive the physical challenges of aging, the emotional challenges of changing life circumstances, and a global pandemic bent on preventing us all from coming together to celebrate personal accomplishments with crowded post-race parties and sweaty high-fives.
So if it’s been a while, or if you’ve yet to fill out your own Staging Area page, go ahead and ask yourself: Why do I run? The answer may surprise you. And whatever your inspiration, we appreciate the chance to be part of your journey. 🙏
Happy New Year y’all, and here’s to a 2021 worth raving about!
Keep running strong,
(Not surprisingly, the idea for this post came to me on a run.)
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Author: Mike Sohaskey
Mike Sohaskey is the co-founder of RaceRaves, the premier online reviews community for runners to share their race experiences and find their next challenge. Mike honed his creative and critical thinking skills as a research scientist, earning a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from Stanford. He’s also completed over 100 races — including 50+ marathons and ultras — in locations ranging from Antarctica to Zimbabwe.
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