Saturday, June 13, 2015

Why I Love Running

The other day I was on a run through Hawk Hollow and was descending the huge hill that sits in the middle of the path. Coming up the other way was a guy doing hill repeats, and he was hammering it.

He was also fast, and looked the part, running in just a pair of shorts, lean, tanned and with epic abs. As we passed each other I gave him a smile and a wave, and he responded with a bit of a nod. Nothing much, but understandable given the pain he was probably in.

It was at that moment that I realized that he and I were no different. Just like you and I are no different, and Mo Farah is no different from the rest of us. The beauty of running is that it is such a singular thing that no matter how fast or slow we are, how many miles we run, or where in the world we are, we are all the same.

It's the beauty of the sport, and it is what makes running so unique and so inclusive. Most sports aren't like this. Like golf, for example...I have played all my life and at one time was pretty good, but nowadays breaking 90 would be a great day. My brother, meanwhile, is a club pro who has a plus-handicap (meaning he gives strokes on the toughest holes) and plays in tournaments all over Georgia.

We may both play golf, but we don't play the same game. He hits bombs off the tee, his irons go high in the air, straight and true, and can make puts from the parking lot. Me? I just keep moving the ball forward and hope the ball falls into the hole every so often.

Other than what time shows up on the clock, I don't feel any different from anyone I run with, because we got to this place the same way -- we put one foot in front of the other and logged miles. Maybe we ran different paces, or different workouts, but the end result was still the same, at the end of the day it's an entry into our running journal.

If you were to look at the running logs of elite runners, you'd find they don't do these elaborate workouts that the rest of us aren't capable of doing.Check out Bill Rodgers' 1977 training log for proof. You'll see easy runs, hard runs, intervals, ladders and tempo runs. That's pretty much it. This is how the best runner in the world at the time trained, and how the best runners in the world currently train. Things are certainly a little more advanced now in terms of diet, nutrition, hydration strategies, and altitude strength training -- and for some, unfortunately, performance-enhancing drugs -- but once the shoes get laced up there is little change from then until now.

Running is simple, and it is a true meritocracy. We are measured on distance and time, and that's it. You get out what you put into it, and that simplicity makes it possible for everyone to succeed. When my sons were growing up playing team sports, so many things factored into playing time, and actual ability and talent wasn't at the top of the list. Sometimes it was about who knew whom, who was the coach's son (I experienced that from both sides) or who was chosen as part of the group of players that needed to play in order to "develop".

With running, it's simple: fastest runners run. The Top 7 of a varsity cross country team is usually made up of the seven fastest runners, and if you want to be in that top seven, all you usually have to do is run faster than the person ahead of you in the pecking order. My oldest son, Matt, went from running in JV races as a sophomore to the No. 2 runner on both a state ranked cross country and 4x800 relay track team. All because he ran faster than everyone else. To me that is just beautiful.

What really inspires me is the thought that somewhere in the world, other people are doing the same thing I am, that they are out on a trail, or a track, or wherever, and are logging miles in search of whatever they run for in the first place. It might be to win a race someday, set a PR, or figure out who they are or where they are going. I love the thought that while I am grinding through a hill workout or pushing through some intervals, somewhere else is doing the exact same thing.

And with that comes respect. Outside of a small, snobbish segment of the running community, there is a level respect among everyone that just doesn't exist in other sports. When you go to a race, especially at longer distances, and look around, there is a knowledge that everyone there has put in the work and deserves to be there. I have been fortunate to interview several elite runners, including people like Bob Kennedy, Brian Sell, Deena Kastor, Alan Culpepper and Dathan Ritzenhein -- Olympians all -- and they get genuinely excited when they find out I am a runner, and have never failed to offer encouragement to me. Lots of you have probably had the same experience! By contrast, I told a professional baseball catcher during an interview once that I could relate to catching games in the heat because I did it in high school, and he looked at me with total disdain, because in his mind the two didn't compare.

As runners, we get each other, which is why the community is so close. I was in Dubai back in February and joined a couple of runners for a few miles, and I was amazed how easy it was to make conversation. Running so far from home certainly gave me a different perspective about things, and it was funny how, just like us, runners there hold the Boston Marathon in such sacred regard. All over the world, qualifying for and running Boston is a really big deal, and to them, Chicago and New York are goal marathons, just like they are for some of us. No matter the place on the map, the culture, or the language, it's all the same.

Bill Rodgers once said: "Our sport, is the sport of possibility. We all have our quests in life, and for some running is that quest." For many of us, the possibility of what could be is what keeps us going. I wish I could someday play in the US Open golf tournament, or play Major League Baseball, but those will probably never happen. But you know what I can do? I can qualify for the Boston Marathon, and I can line up behind the elite runners in a World Marathon Major. Never forget that it's a special privilege to get to do what we do.

I'm going to finish this post with another quote from Bill Rodgers that I find so inspirational:

"At first, it’s this unimaginable thing. Like climbing Everest. The journey is hard, and riddled with setbacks, but it can be conquered . The unimaginable becomes the imaginable. The impossible dream becomes just the dream. The important thing to remember is that the quest to win a marathon, or even to finish a marathon , starts where all great quests are born— within the heart. That’s where it started for me. The heart is always the true starting line."

When you head out on your run today, take a minute to be thankful for the fact that you run. You are part of a special group of people from all over the world, and whether you know it or not, we are all rooting for you!

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