Your feet push with force, propelling yourself as you hurl around the curve of the track. In the glaring sun, sweat drips from your face, stinging your eyes. Some way, somehow, you know you must continue on at this grueling pace for another two laps before being allowed a break, which is hardly sufficient to your recovering from oxygen debt. Only to repeat this process numerous times more, each repetition feeling more hellish and unbearable than the other. At one point you begin to doubt whether you can finish the workout at all, let alone keep the pace. Yet, you pull yourself together, for the final repetition has arrived and you exert the last drop of energy of energy remaining in your taxed body. As you collapse, exhausted, at the finish line, you only register pain. Eventually, after you begin to recover, and jog for your cooldown, you remember that this effort is expected of you every other day for six days a week, with long distance runs in between at a more comfortable pace. How you deal this hell evades you. But you do, and continue on.
As a competitive high school runner, I know firsthand the mental and physical strains that distance runners, of any ability, go through every day. Throughout our season, we push ourselves, hold ourselves to certain standards, set goals, and chase them. For me, this is great fun and something that I’m really passionate about. But recently, one of my friends on my cross country team made me think: what is the point of it all? We were talking together after school and practice, after most of our other friends who stayed after had left, and I brought up running, because I hadn’t talked with him about that subject for a while, and didn’t really know how he was progressing in workouts and such. His response was shocking to me: he had been considering quitting for a while now, and was planning on dropping cross country from his schedule at the end of the semester. Mind, this wasn’t just some average or slow runner saying this, but a runner who is a major part of the junior varsity team, and next year, could be competing for a spot on varsity. And yet, despite all this in front of him, he chose that he would rather quit. The reason he gave was that running cross country would make no difference in his life, and that he didn’t like running, so it’d be better for him to quite. Of course, I want him to be happy, but also, I want to keep him from making decisions that he will regret in the future. So I continued the conversation. What exactly about running didn’t he like? It’s boring. It takes too much energy out of him. And much more. I was starting to think that there was no hope whatsoever of him coming back (while I respect his decision either way, I’d obviously love for him to run for the team), I mentioned a workout that we did last track season. It was a ten by 400 meters workout at mile pace on a three minute cycle (you start a new repetition every three minutes). Not only did he do great on the workout, but also did one or two extra. So I asked him about it, since it seemed to me that someone who hated running wouldn’t have had that level of commitment and effort. And his answer struck me as odd, considering all that he had already said: he had loved running then! To me this shows that he doesn’t absolutely hate running, that just he might just be disappointed with the past season.
Perhaps he’ll eventually decide to run again. Maybe he won’t. But at least he raised a quite important question to me: why do I (and anyone else) run at all? Let’s take my English honors class 2 class for example. Currently, we are reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. And in preparation for the upcoming tests and quizzes on it, I am reading the book. Yes, actually reading the book, page by page in the boring and complicated original text, instead of just opting to read the Sparknotes (summarized online) version, which I know for a fact that half of my class does. Why don’t I just follow suit and use the easy way out? I could still probably manage a B in the class, which would still give me a 4.o because it’s an honor class. The reason that I choose to do schoolwork this way (and, importantly, one of the reasons why I run) is because I want to push myself to be the absolute best that I can be. I want to reach my potential. My coach has said before that even if you’re only going to be a 21 minute runner (for a three mile race, which is towards the slower side of my team), then go out and chase your limits. Similarly, if you have the potential to be running a 14:00 three mile, don’t settle with a 14:45 race, although such a runner would be able to place very high in competition. I’ve found that the feeling of having pushed your limits and the knowledge that for now, you are the very best you can be at something makes every day of hard training worth it. No matter what time or place you finish, you can take pride and having done your best, knowing that you couldn’t have ran one second faster if wanted. And this is what I think made my friend love running before this last cross country season. He was improving and loving the fact that he was able to put his energy into an outlet in which he could excel and do his best. Even if he didn’t improve, the fact that he was doing his best would’ve pushed him onward and he would have grown as a person. No matter who you are, regardless of ability level, age, competitiveness, or even commitment level, running can teach you things (that certainly apply to daily life) that can’t quite be taught in any other way. Runners are not just “chasing shadows”, embarked on some wayward journey that leads to nowhere. I’ve only stated one of the reasons why I run, why it’s not useless. So in answer to my friend’s question: Yes, there is a “point” to running, and it is worthwhile. So……why do you run?
PS- Oh, and for those of you out there who aren’t runners, try it sometime; give it a chance. You just might love it. 🙂