Choosing to suffer - why do we runners do it?
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“Why am I doing this?” I thought, toeing the line of a half marathon I wasn’t prepared for. 21km’s later as I crossed the finish line I didn't have an answer. I was proud and the scenery was stunning – but when I'm not in it for the glory of winning and I could have walked the same course to take pictures – why put myself through the effort of running it as fast as I could?
Why do we runners choose to suffer? To run races hell or high water, ready or not, healthy or super sick? Is it for the euphoric feeling of a runners high? I posted once how this feeling makes runners glutens for punishment, obsessively enduring pain and suffering in a way others think is insane and unhealthy. A running friend said YES! – she gets it – while someone else messaged to say I was glorifying the very serious problem of exercise addiction.
With billions of people on the planet opposing opinions are expected.
Was I? I debated internally – on one hand when you have someone choosing to exercise multiple hours per day, pushing themselves through pain and suffering while following strict dietary requirements, I can see how this could be diagnosed as having a serious issue. But what about professional athletes? The same level of exercise, commitment and dietary needs are necessary to becoming a champion – and we celebrate them! Is the difference then just a mindset? Or, is it our chance of winning – someone with a chance to win is a champion in the making, the rest of us are delusional and unhealthy?
I chose to run a half marathon I wasn’t ready for, with no chance of winning and knowing it would hurt, a lot. I couldn't talk myself out of it, you couldn't have either. I don’t think an intervention was required (maybe?) but why feel compelled to do it?
Post-race, laying dead on the ground I came up with a theory that I am going to stick with – at least for now…
It’s in my blood.
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For all runners who race forward without hope of winning, knowing there will be suffering – I am going with the theory it’s in our blood.
Think about it – for centuries children were raised from birth to be ready to fight and defend their freedom. Mostly men, sure, but ahem ever head of Joan of Arc? How does one prepare to charge fearlessly into battle - knowing pain and suffering await - without being born with the right mindset? It hasn’t been that long since this was normal – it still is in many parts of the world – but here in North America having enjoyed peace for a generation we’ve forgotten. Evolution has not.
Ever watched war movies depicting the wars of our ancestors and wondered “would I have the guts to run onto the battlefield knowing pain and suffering await?" Reading stories of survivors who ran for the hills, have you asked yourself "would I have the strength to run, hide and survive in the mountains?”
We are the descendants of brave soldiers of war, and survivors of unbearable conditions. Maybe by racing forward from start lines - knowing what lays ahead will hurt - we are answering these questions "YES!"
We are, in our own way, training ourselves for the unknown future. We don't know what lays ahead, but I feel a certain level of confidence knowing that whatever it is if - if it involves running for miles to survive or running fearlessly towards something that is probably going to hurt - I am ready.