As I was writing my book I asked my running friends: Why do you run? Their answers varied wildly. Put together they provide a pretty good answer to the ultimate question that is at the heart of my book. In the end I was unable to include these thoughtful, honest answers in De rennende Hollander. During the coming weeks I will publish them here, one a day, with minimal editing. As I get ready for the Amsterdam Marathon, re-reading these words provides me with new inspiration every time.
I could answer with a haiku if you want poetry:
Finish ahead of
Diederik Van Hoogstraten
Twenty six point two
I could also claim the typical – to stay in shape, etc. But that’s too generic. I think the real question is – why do I train and run races/marathons? The answer is: running provides a perspective on living a fuller life. It really comes down to three things: a balance in perspective, understanding one’s own identity, and achievement through adversity.
Most things we enjoy in life are a study in contrast and balance. Take food. The best dishes balance sweet and sour, hot and cold, hard and soft, mild and salty. It’s only when we experience something sour that we better appreciate something sweet. For me, running provides the ultimate contrast. After a hard day at work when you get home feeling exhausted, there’s nothing better than pushing yourself on a run. While running is the ultimate solo sport, you do best when you train with a group. You can race with 40,000 people in a marathon but only focus on beating the clock. You run a marathon for yourself, but wear the finisher’s medal proudly for all to see. Running fast, short distances it just as valuable as long and slow. It’s these seemingly contradictory aspects that make running and life most fulfilling and help to keep things in balance.
Secondly, running forces you to confront and become comfortable with who you are – your true identity. While we all may wish for Ryan Hall’s running ability, we can only focus on maximizing the ability we have. Once you understand that you can focus on maximizing your own abilities and running ‘your race’, not anyone else’s. A great thing about running is the personal satisfaction someone gets in running a sub-4 hour marathon is no different from the person running a sub-3. It’s not the actual goal, but the effort that went into pushing oneself in the endeavor.
Which brings me to my last point – achievement through adversity. While effort and maximizing one’s own ability are important, running provides measurable, tangible outcomes. Either you finished the race or you DNF’d. Either you beat your goal time or you didn’t. Black and white. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Moreover, as the saying goes, it’s not how you handle your successes, it’s how you respond to your failures. After a bad training session, a bad race, or even a bad stretch in a race, how does one handle that? In a marathon, we all go through periods of self-doubt, times we want to stop and quit. Only when we can fight through those urges are we able to succeed. It’s the same in life. Personally, I’m glad it took me a few marathons to finally reach my goal time. Those ‘failures’ help me to better appreciate the journey and effort it took to finally achieve my goal. And that made it all the more satisfying. As in life, I’d rather try and fail at a race and learn from that, then never even toe the starting line.
I’m reminded of the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt: ‘Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.’*
That is why I run.
*This superb quote made it to the opening page of my book – DvH