Off Course: Episode 1

In the past year or so, I have partially let go of the existing culture of elite running being a one-dimensional thing. What I mean by that is, at least in elite running, there is a culture of believing that there is only one way to run, and only one reason to do so. The reason, apparently, is to be the best in the world, and the way is to be as similar to Mo Farah as possible. If you don’t believe me go look at some elite runners’ social media pages, either all of them are so focused on winning that they are accidentally all imitating each other, or they’re so unoriginal that they are intentionally appropriating aspects of each other’s social media brands for their own use. I get it, there have been times when I’ve been guilty of this too. It’s easy to fall back into the same voice as everyone else, because we all live similar lives. I am sorry for following suit on this, that tone of overhyping “the grind” is super boring and played out. But, more importantly, it’s too narrow in terms of its focus. It’s too specific to adequately describe the personal and important ambiguity of what running, at its best, represents. That personal nature of running is much harder to describe and it’s especially difficult since the important aspects of running are different for each person. That’s what I mean by the “important ambiguity” of the sport. It’s different person to person, and that’s good.

The reason I say that I have partially let go of this one-dimensional view is because it’s still my job, (which is something that still blows my mind, I pay my rent by exercising lol) and I want to continue to try to succeed at all the extrinsic aspects of running so that it stays my job (my psoas’ aren’t cut out for office life). Despite that first paragraph, I do have professional aspirations; I want to win the Bolder Boulder, I want to break 2:10 in the marathon, I want to be an Olympian, I want to podium at a World Marathon Major. These goals are important to me and, as such, I am going to take my time to try and achieve them. So, that’s one dimension, and that’s the dimension that gets talked about a lot and gets shown on TV and gets shared on social media. But, there are also other dimensions of running too, and those other dimensions have been growing in importance and interest to me over the past year, as has exploring and sharing these aspects of running.


I Autonomy

Almost all of the running that I do has a point. To get miles in, to work on turnover, to improve your lactate threshold, to improve fat burning ability, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum (that last part is Latin for, there’s lots of stuff on the interwebs about the nitty gritty of training and this is not one of those things). But, when you remove yourself from that, when you try to look at training from a side long view instead of from inside it, it kind of all starts to look the same. It isn’t, only, this complicated thing that’s purely measured and manipulated and is all about numbers and splits. I mean, it is that, but also it’s not. What I’m saying is, it doesn’t have to just be that, It can be something that you do purely for the sake of doing it. Even racing; the grand daddy of them all, in terms of overthinking, and worrying, and analyzing, isn’t all that complicated of a thing if you don’t make it that way. Sure, maybe you have paces to hit, or someone to key off of, or whatever. But, ultimately, it’s about getting to the start line and doing your best on the day that you’re given. Maybe your legs are there, maybe they aren’t. Either way, just ripping for the sake of ripping is a beautiful thing and when that happens, it’s freeing. When you do that, when you set all the other extraneous shit that surrounds training and racing to the side, then you’re independent of extra baggage and it’s just you running that’s left. Running becomes just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to do the best you can in the moment you’re in and whatever that is, is ok.

II Honesty

There are these moments at the end of a hard workout, or towards the end of a really long run, or at that point in a race where it hurts super badly but you’re still a long ways out, they’re moments when all you want to do is stop but can choose to keep going. I think that those moments represent a form of honesty. I think that the honesty comes when the fatigue doesn’t leave room for things like rationalizations. The only thing that there’s room for in those moments are answers to hard and important questions about yourself. Admittedly, I don’t know if I can fully articulate what those questions are, but I do know that  you can’t lie about your answers to those questions, at least not to yourself. I sometimes find myself thinking about those moments, particularly after the workout or race when I am safely in the shower (usually sitting down, sometimes sobbing). I think about what those moments say about me. Sometimes I am happy with what I find and sometimes I feel like I have more work to do. That’s the honesty that running provides. It’s a vehicle for self-evaluation and it’s a medium through which we learn about ourselves.

III Connection

              Most of my fondest memories took place on runs that happened far from a start line. I’ll never forget the first time I ever ran 10 miles. I was a freshman in high school and all summer the older guys talked about the Table Top 10, which was a 10-mile route that went up a mesa, and then all the way across to a point where you could stand overlooking the city of Golden, and then back to where we always met. We always called that route 10 miles, but it was probably closer to 9. I think we probably always knew it was short but never cared to measure it. Even back then, we knew that girls wouldn’t be impressed if we bragged about running 9.3 miles. We didn’t know, however, that girls in high school, and most girls more generally, also wouldn’t be impressed by us bragging about how we ran 10 miles. Anyways, I was with my high school teammates and our coach and we ran all the way across Table Mountain, which always felt really big and hilly (Some context here. This run is actually not that hilly, which you maybe figured out because it happened on a mesa and mesa is the Spanish word for table. Tables are, almost universally, very flat). I was a freshman, and my teammates were all upperclassmen. I was in way over my head, but that was ok, because I was surrounded by my dudes. Another cherished memory of mine is from one of the first dates I ever went on with my girlfriend. We went on a 7-mile run where she showed me this road loop around Council Crest in Portland, and then we got burritos together. It was only our 3rd date but I had to hold back many urges to scream, “I love you!” at her between bites of Mexican food (after the date, I immediately texted two of my best friends and asked how early is too early to say, “I love you.” They both strongly agreed that 3 dates is WAY too early, even if Mexican food is involved). That will always be a very special memory to me, in large part, but not exclusively, due to the burrito. My running friends and I have logged miles together, laughed together, argued about stupid shit and important shit, and just silently existed in each other’s company while trotting down a countless number of roads and bike paths and trails together. Sometimes you get days you feel great, sometimes your legs feel like a dumpster fire inside of a tornado that is happening in the middle of desolate hellscape, but that’s less important than the people you’re with. Those memories and those friendships are things that I will always be grateful for and will always think are important.

Running is special because it’s an opportunity to share space with people you care about, it’s a chance for honest self-evaluation and self-improvement, and it’s an occasion to do the best that you can  in the moment that you’re given and be ok with whatever that may be. That stuff doesn’t get shared enough. It especially doesn’t get shared in the upper eschelons of running by those who have the biggest followings. I’m certainly not done with the elite side of the sport, I love my job and I want to do it as well as I can for as long as I can. But, I also want to take a breath now and then, and remember that competing is a tiny sliver of running, and I have been pretty god damn lucky to have experienced the stuff that makes up the rest of the pie. The important stuff