I once heard someone talking about distance runners. His comment “All distance runners are running away from something” really struck a nerve in me. At first it angered me. How could a complete stranger make such a comment about me, let alone all distance runners. I knew for a fact that I wasn’t running away from anything. I loved to run and that was the only reason that I was running.
Then I started to think about it and really look at myself. Yes, I loved to run, but I was using running as an escape. While I ran nothing else mattered. I was able to leave all the hustle and bustle and stress of everyday life behind for those few hours. I was completely content and wanted for nothing when I was in the mountains. I felt free, nothing else existed other than the few feet of trail in front of me. I loved this feeling, I loved how my body felt after a run had ended. I loved the happiness that had filled my body.
I realized that what this complete stranger said had truth to it. I realized that I was running away, I was wanting to leave certain parts of my life behind. I had never looked at my running from this angle before. I was confused and wondering if my running was a good thing if all I was using it for was an escape from reality. I struggled with this, but I continued to run, I continued to love each and every moment that I had on the trails.
One day I realized that something had changed. I wasn’t looking forward to my runs quite as much. I was able to find excuses for myself to sleep in, to cut my runs short, and sometimes to skip my runs all together. Once again I was confused. I still loved to run in the mountains, but I felt more like work than pleasure. I was running with a watch, keeping track of my splits and my heart rate. I was no longer running to run.
I still loved running and I loved racing, but I did not like people taking notice of this. People noticed that I was always smiling and laughing when I would come into aid stations. They noticed that I loved races and runs that pushed me to my limits. People noticed that sometimes I would do well at races and that I spent almost all of my free time in the mountains. I took notice of this and without realizing it I started changing how and why I was running.
I was no longer running away from something, I was now running towards something. I was running towards the people that were taking notice of me. I didn’t want to let down all the people that were noticing me. I no longer just ran in the mountains because it gave me joy, now I ran in the mountains because I was training. I no longer ran when ever I felt the need, now I had training plans and schedules to keep. I had a certain number of miles each week that I had to run … no more, no less. I had certain heart rates that I had to keep for certain runs. I was worried about my form, I only had “x” amount on minutes at each aid station during races. Every aspect of running now had a number and a reason attached to it. Running was no longer running.
It look me a long time to realize how my running had changed and how much I had changed. It became obvious to me during a race in Vermont. I was just about half way through the race and I was doing well, but I wasn’t happy. As a matter of fact I was very unhappy and border line miserable. On the fourth day of the race I stopped. I quit the race, I no longer wanted to continue. I felt so good to be finished with the race, but for some reason I stayed at the race kept running on my own.
Over the next six days I ran where ever and when ever I felt like running. I ran the course with my friends that were still in the race, I would get lost for hours at a time while exploring new trails, I would run into town and bring back food and drinks … I would just run. I started to remember how much I loved running. I remembered the feelings that I used to have when I started running. I felt the happiness and joy, I felt the desire and uncontrollable need to be running. Once again I was running away from something. I just ran.
I don’t remember what he looked like or what his name was, but I will always remember and be grateful for what he said.
“All distance runners are running away from something”