Thursday, January 27, 2011

Really? Are you serious?

I was reading through some back articles from John “The Penguin” Bingham this morning and I was struck by how often he talks of his foray into running at the age of 43 as “fun.” And then every time I would read this (pretty frequently) in one of his posts, I would think to myself, really? You genuinely find pounding pavement for miles on end with your heart beating wildly, your leg muscles burning as you climb hills, and your lungs burning as you gasp for air “fun?” Obviously John Bingham and I have very different definitions of this seemingly innocuous little three-letter word…  So it got me to thinking about what it really means for running to be “fun.” Usually, I will even go so far as to decry the hypocrisy of the “fun run.” Clearly this is a misnomer… especially when it involves any distance longer than, say, 5K at the absolute most.

To come to a mutually acceptable definition, let’s start out by establishing here and now that the fun of running is not (nor will it ever be, in my mind) the same kind of fun as, say, going to Six Flags and hopping on a roller coaster (Ignoring for the moment that there are some experience-deprived people out there who actually don’t like roller coasters at all). It’s not the same kind of fun as going to Hawaii for a week’s vacation or watching your favorite sports team win the big game. These, to my way of thinking, are what I would term fun, in the classical sense of the word. No, running (or really any kind of sport that requires more than a modicum of physical exertion – hopefully this will nix the questions about chess as a sport for the purposes of this discussion) is not fun in this classical sense of the word. That being said, if John Bingham, or anyone else for that matter, can change my mind about this perspective I’m open to the arguments…. 

Who knows, maybe I’m just not in touch with the Zen nature of running yet. I rarely, if ever, get into the soothing rhythm of a run enough to find it a freeing experience… and I must admit that it makes me feel more than a little inadequate when people talk about the Zen of running, or using their daily runs in order to clear their heads and work out solutions to tough problems in their minds. I don’t ever achieve this place of meditation during a run and when I see someone, anyone, writing or talking about this I look at them wistfully and wonder what it is that they’ve got that I’m missing… like it’s some kind of missing piece of genetic material or something… and maybe I was never really meant to be a runner because I can’t achieve this level of running nirvana.

Fortunately, I’m not willing to admit defeat quite so easily. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not physically designed to be an elite level runner, so maybe this is on that same order – only this is the mental side of the genetic equation. But actually what I suspect is that we might need a whole new word coined for the fun that is derived from running… so that people like me can get out there and run without feeling like they’re missing out on something merely because they’re not achieving the same kind of high they would as if they jumped on the Matterhorn at Disneyland (bad example, I know, but bear with me here…).

So let’s talk, instead about the kind of fun that I have as a runner. This is a fun that is much less readily apparent than the amusement park thrill ride. This is a kind of fun that has to be actively sought out and recognized for what it is. You work for this fun, it’s not handed to you (is having to work for your fun, actually fun or is this oxymoronic? Maybe... I’ll have to do some more thinking on this.) The fun of running is the fun that comes with the acknowledgment of achievement… when you run your first mile, your first 5K, your first marathon. It is the joy you feel when you get to the top of the hill and despite the lactic acid pain in your legs, you turn around and realize you’ve made it to the top without stopping (go, go Heather!) - whereas last month, you had to take a breather or at least walk the last part of that hill. 

Maybe the fun comes from the new community of friends and acquaintances you develop who share your common interest. They know what it means to face a lonely day of running in the rain and the cold. You can share the common insights about things like moisture wicking fabrics and the breaking in of a new pair of shoes… or the love/hate relationship we have with Lycra. You can reflect back and laugh together at your race time that was horrendously ruined because of the mile-long train that had to cross in front of you during the last race. Or you can sit together at the end of a race, talking over the high and low points while enjoying the spoils of pasta and beer. But still this isn’t exactly fun you have while running.

Or maybe the fun comes from the enjoyment of getting out and seeing the changes, however subtle, that come each day to the environment around you as you run your regular route. Seeing the leaves on the trees change colors in the fall, or seeing the first signs of daffodils in peoples’ yards in the spring… or even other changes that happen…  I must admit that I derive a strange sort of pleasure from seeing when the city comes around and fills a pothole that I’ve been navigating around for months and months. 

My enjoyment also comes from the changes I see and feel in my body… the weight loss, the muscle gain, the strides in my cardiovascular improvement, not to mention the more subtle changes that are only evident when I look back over the past few months or even years, such as no more knee pain when I climb stairs and no more gasping for breath when I get to the top of said stairs. But again, I really wouldn’t call all these things the fun of the actual activity of running. Yes, I do appreciate the way my body moves better, but again, this isn’t really fun per se.

John Bingham talks about our body’s inherent drive to move and to run… witness little kids running all over the place just because they can and because they enjoy it. Still, I don’t tend to think of something as fun just because it’s instinctive… running from the mastodon that wanted to eat us for lunch or the tsunami that rolls in on the shore is not fun merely because our survival instinct inherently tells us to run! 

Does this all make me too “goal” oriented and all about the end result, not the journey? Maybe… is that going to stop me from stepping out to take the journey in the first place? Absolutely not. I guess all of this is leading me to think that we need a new term to describe the kind of joy we derive from incorporating this activity into our lives that might not be fun in and of itself, but the sum of its parts does lead to a sense of enjoyment, accomplishment and fulfillment.

Now, if we only had a word for this sensation that wasn’t used interchangeably with the one we use when referring to mouse ears, relaxing on white sand beaches, or eating burgers and Cajun fries at the local “Five Guys!” As I said before, John Bingham, I’m open here... any suggestions?

Today's Run
Miles: 6.16
Time: 1:15
Pace: 4.9 mph
Treadmill  Run


The Merry said...

I like running in the past tense, i.e. "I went running." I do not like running in the present or future tense.

Jo said...

Good point! I'm guessing that the times someone will hear the words "O boy! I'm GOING to run today, yippee!" come out of my mouth will be few & far between.

Meg said...

I have to agree with your blog today...I dont find joy or fun in the actual run...but I do enjoy the way I feel about 20-30 minutes after, I do enjoy the new friends and I enjoy the fact that I finish each day and how it has changed me. But everyday I still get up and go out and put myself through the paces just to get to the finish so that I can enjoy the completion. LOL. I love your blog and look forward to it. Have a great weekend!

Heather said...

Something sick and twisted is has been happening. I've noticed more and more....that I actually like running. I think it's fun. Most of the time, anyway. There was a time when did not feel this way at all, and I think that's why I choose to not go for a run if I'm feeling overtrained. I don't want it to be an act of "have to". I want this to be a forever thing for Kent & myself. I am serious when I talk about wanting to win the 80 year old age category of a race someday! I know that's the only chance I have at being #1 at this sport. lol

PS... still dislike hills. I'm not sure I'll ever "feel the love" for them.