Running has to be a Labour of Love

I don’t know why, but writing about running makes more sense when I’m injured and can’t run. But that’s what it has come down to, at least for the coming week. I did a few too many speed workouts and the area around my hip flexor feels slightly off. I can’t really walk a few steps without feeling a slight pain inch up my upper thigh. This was probably bound to happen given that I was training five times a week at one juncture.

As I was hobbling along today I realised just how tough running actually is. Not that I thought a lot about it as I was training. There’s no point questioning so much. When people ask me why I like to run I always have my answers on a template and it looks something like this:

I like to run because I can explore the area. I like to run because it feels good to feel fast. I like to run because the improvement I make is often very tangible, and I like challenging myself in that way. I like to run because there’s nothing like feeling the wind play with your hair. 

All these reasons are good reasons, but they often fall flat the moment I’m injured. When I had my stress fracture two years ago I hardly talked about running, mainly because I was ashamed that I couldn’t run, but also because all the above reasons felt more and more like a distant memory to me. And besides, different things began to take over my life when I was injured that in one way or another filled the void left by running. I found out that I could write when I was sad, and there were other more dubious means to get high without running.

In those moments without running it was as if I never ran and that conjuring these thoughts of running would only serve as an unnecessary torture. Like the reminder of a past love.

And maybe that was it, we don’t want to be reminded of past glory in all its various forms, because more than just showing that we’re no longer as good as we used to be, it also shows us the transient, passing nature of greatness itself, and that it can be a  very scary thing to possess in the first place.

I would say that right now I’m faster than I’ve ever been before, but with all that ability comes the nagging fear that this can be all taken away from me, as it has for this week. In a sense I’m lucky to have had past experience with injury to be wise enough to not push the limits. And so I rest for now. But as hopeful as I am for progress, I am often cynical and remind myself that this might just be it; the height of running glory might be here and now. I can do everything to prevent myself from injury and stagnation and it might still go awry. I might look back not long from now lugging a satchel of memories of my glorious past. I’m all too familiar with that sinking feeling.

Injuries bring forth all these insecurities. I am the adopted child afraid of being sent back to the orphanage should I misbehave. I try very hard to prevent all these problems from happening, and as I do I start to slowly discover why it is that I truly like to run.

A friend once told me that he doesn’t run because running was too easy, and anyone could be fast. You just run all day, and that’s it. He would rather play a ball sport that depended on something more interesting like team dynamics and agility.

My coach would agree with my friend on the first part of his claim: that running was easy. My coach told me on our first training that every athlete comes to him with passion, but the mark of a true runner is someone who does everything else right outside of their passion. “Running is the easiest thing to do, anyone can run. It’s your (and he would pause here for dramatic effect) lifestyle that I’m more interested in.” And by lifestyle he meant everything from the hours of sleep to the temperature of the water you drink (no cold drinks is the order I’d been given). And so from there you see what it really means to be a runner: not about being fast or feeling fast, but about the ability to protect and nurture that passion. Running is like the hole in the donut. It’s everything else around it that really matters, but yet it is the hole that defines the donut.

I’m still learning that lesson. There are days when I make mistakes, and let my guard down. I sleep a little late and drink with my friends on occasion. I sometimes fail to plan my meals properly. Little things like that tend to go wrong, but I’m learning. I’m also learning to love the entire process of nurturing. You can’t love your performance whilst dread rehearsals and say that theatre is your life. And maybe it’s the same for running, and everything else. I may be wrong, but I think true passion probably doesn’t work around a bunch of concessions. You either love everything about the process, or end up convincing yourself to.

So my friend was right, it was easy to run. Anyone can run. But to be a runner? It takes a whole lot of dedication, a whole different way of life. True passion isn’t just about love, but loving the labour of love.

And as for the satchel of memories that I’ll carry into the future? I think future me would be proud if I did everything with love right now. I have my shot at some degree of greatness. And if I do everything I can to protect it, I can look back and have no regrets.

So why do I like to run?

I like to run because I loved everything else that came with it as well, and that has slowly become the way I live. 

You know what, I’ll just stick to the first answer if anybody asks.

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