Saturday, October 04, 2008


Three months ago, I took up running again. When I say "again", I had done it off and on for a few months about eight years ago, but never seriously, and once I stopped, that was it. Until three months ago.

The metaphors around running and self-improvement are tired, especially since the late 90's, when running essentially became all about self-improvement. However, and I simply cannot avoid this aspect, for me, running has had a transformative aspect to my life and how I think about things, and the reason for that is that I am not training to finish, I am training to win.

You see, nearly 20 years ago, I was a long distance runner. I was one of these kids who was encouraged to go out there and run, because I could, because I was good at it. Well, like everything else I was good at, being good was a license to stop trying. Who needs to try when they're good? Who needs to strive when the work that really matters (social validation) has been accomplished before you've even run your first 10k?

So I ran my first one, and I had to walk part of it, because I had not run at all. But I finished it, in under 50 minutes, so I felt that my label of "good", still stuck, especially because the doughy masses who followed me, you know, the ones who had trained for months just to stagger across the finish line in under an hour, they weren't as good as me.

And so it went. I ran four more races in a one year period, and never trained, and perhaps unsurprisingly, never beat my first running time. Not knowing my limitations was probably what got me to run that first one, and so I realised that if I just avoided pushing myself, I could always clock in a respectable time, people would be impressed, and I could be good at something.

So even when I stopped, I held up "good at running" as a label that suited me just fine. And I did that for 15 years. And then, for reasons which will not be divulged here, I came to a point where I needed to find an outlet for a particular kind of existential rage, you know, perhaps the kind that had been the result of 15 years of not pushing.

So I bought a pair of shoes, and the next morning, went and ran five kilometres. And I started to tell people I did this, and they started to say, "wow, that's really good", and I started to feel that this could very easily wind up getting me right back to where I started, right where I no longer wanted to be.

So instead, I set a lofty goal for myself. I would find a 10k to run three months from starting up, and try to beat myself at it. That is, I will try to beat the lazy 17 year old, the one who dropped running because his then girlfriend trained competitively and he realised that in competing with her, he might lose his status as being "good at running".

So that means running 10k in under 45 minutes.

When I started, this seemed ridiculous. The application to the 10k asked me when I expected to finish the run, so I put an hour, realising that I too am one of those doughy folks struggling to finish.

Except I am not. Right now, I am three minutes off my goal, and today, I ran 11 kilometres, which is the longest distance I have ever run. Not only that, but I ran it while pushing my son in his stroller.

Like many people, I have had this vague goal to run a marathon, and I had set it as a goal to accomplish before I hit 35. That doesn't look realistic, but I think I will make 30k in Hamilton days before my birthday, and it will be enough.

I'm kind of glad, because I have realised that the goal for me is no longer to finish these races, or "accomplish" something, which seems to be the great motto of our society, to buy the gear and strive for the minimum, in our lives, in our cultural consuption, in pretty much every aspect of our lives.

I want to compete again, to get in there, get dirty, and outrun everyone else. This is no longer about being good, it's about being better than anyone else. In other words, I'm not running a marathon next March because I don't want to run a bad marathon, even though I don't quite know what that means yet.

The dialectic of my body and the bodies of all these other runners has just begun. But the desire to compete has already started to infect the ways I think about other things, like my music, my work, and even this lowly blog.

To be honest, I don't know what any of this means for this blog, except that it will either get better, or it won't be here at all.

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