Spartan Race

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why I Run - or does a runner have a mu nature?

Increasingly, I am asked why I run. Not infrequently, it is a non-runner who asks - most runners have their own reasons and don’t question your decision. It’s easy to say why I started running: my wife loves doing it. I was initially support staff for her through a few races, and then she talked me in to doing it myself. Why I continue doing it is another matter. Throughout my non-storied career, I have to admit, “why do I run?” has become something I ask myself more frequently. I’d love to say it was thoughtful introspection was the reason, but I’m not that deep (I lack a goatee and don’t drink coffee). In reality, it usually happens on a long training run or dead-tired, late in a race. Really more “why am I running right now?” A why-am-I –putting-myself-through-this thing that I pose internally, but I think the conclusion I have come to works both in that situation and on a more philosophical level.
I usually tell people that I really don’t like to run. In fact, I hate it. I explain that I run so I won’t embarrass myself in races, and that I race because I like getting T-shirts and shiny medals. From non-runners, I frequently get the “do you win a lot?’ question which is answered with laughter on my part. Amusingly enough, a few times, this has been taken as an arrogant, “yes, I always win” statement, which is actually funnier than the initial question. Other people usually will buy this “it’s for the swag” line of reasoning, and being perfectly frank, I probably wouldn’t be as likely to go out and run if I didn’t have a goal (some organized race coming up). It’s not the kind of thing that I can use to motivate myself at mile 20 on a training run, however (though I am figuring out that tweeting or posting how far I intend to run that day is a motivating factor – somehow it feels like I have etched the workout in stone). I’ve seen other folks write about why they run. My reaction is usually more of a “good for them” than a “Precisely, that’s why I do it too”. In truth, most of the reasons others cite for the answer to the question don’t work for me. I don’t get a runner’s high, I don’t clear my mind by racing long distances, and I think that I’m actually able to control my weight better by working out with weights than by running. I do understand the PR idea and subscribe to it, but if it isn’t a standalone concept. Why would I care about setting a personal record in a hobby that I didn’t care about for other reasons?
So why do I get up at 4AM and go stand in the freezing rain with a bunch of other idiots also waiting for a race to start? Why do I actually enjoy aching for a few days after. Why do I have an entire wall of my house with my wife’s and my race bibs stapled to it? The answer may inhently lie within the question.
Running is not a religious or spiritual experience of any sort for me, though I recognize and applaud the fact that for lots of people it is. I do think I can best explain my affinity for it with (at least my understanding of ) a Zen concept. The Koan “Does a dog have a Buddhist nature?” is apparently answered correctly with the single word “Mu”. To my understanding, the word effectively means “unask the question”. In other words, there is something inherently wrong with the query posed. It’s not quite the same thing as George Mallory's famous “because it’s there” answer as to why he wanted to climb Everest, but it’s in the same spectrum. Why do I run? Mu. And shiny medals and T-shirts.

1 comment:

  1. muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu! thanks. great post. i have a different answer but i think it can be boiled down to just that.
    love the elegance. ty for sharing.