One Friday evening, about 5 years ago, I started reading Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog where these lines appear.,
The following day, I went for a long run and promptly dedicated the run to these lines. Recently, it re-appeared on Facebook as memories and I started having second thoughts, ‘Does stopping really scare me to death?’ Of course, the thought of everyone stopping to run should certainly scare Phil Knight to death as it affects his fortune. But, why me? Is stopping something that anyone should be worried about?
People take up to running for various reasons – fitness, recreation, socialising, health reasons, out of boredom, or just an excuse to binge more food. Over the years, I have observed many take up to running, ramp up their efforts in short time, achieve extra-ordinary distances and personal records, some fame on the way and, then suddenly, quit running altogether. This is very common among professional runners, who rarely participate in running events after they officially retire from the sport. There are plenty of reasons, from physical injuries caused during running to challenges on the personal and professional front that demands prioritisation over running. While analysing the reasons for quitting, it is important to find out why they took to running and what drove them to dizzy heights before an apocalyptic fall.
Fran Lebowitz, famously known as a writer who never writes, doesn’t own a mobile phone, never used a computer and has only heard about e-mail and social media, has contempt for many things and is always willing to express them without holding back. It includes running. Here, she is giving her opinion on why people run…
“When I was young, you never saw adults running. Running was something children did; Running was playing and playing was for Children. So, I never saw this. And now, you see 70-year olds running. I don’t think they are doing it because it is fun. They are doing it because they believe that if they keep doing this, they are not going to die; or they are going to look fantastic, even though they already look horrible.”
As someone who loves her cigarettes, Lebowitz is certainly not the best person to look up to for opinions on running. But, she raises two pertinent points – First, do people force themselves to run? And secondly, do people find fun in running?
Let’s admit that running as a tool of punishment, is deeply entrenched in the psyche of most school-going children. Late for school? Run as punishment… ; dirty uniform? Run a few more laps… So, nobody has been taught to have fun through running. In later years, people take up running more out of self-interest than any external compulsion. The only incident when I was compelled to run was when I chased a chain-snatcher; and I failed miserably. However, if someone doesn’t have fun in running, they are obviously forcing themselves to run; and when they force themselves to run, they get injured easily and quit running altogether.
I recently listened to this lovely conversation between Malcom Gladwell (also a prolific runner) and Adam Grant.
Among the various things they discuss includes whether running can be called as the most obsessive sport? (Starts at around 24 minutes into the podcast, incase you want to skip the rest). Malcom vehemently disagrees and suggests that only during races, do runners push themselves to the edge. On other occasions, running teaches one about the virtue of restraint. Adam Grant, using the research work of social psychologist Dr. Robert Vallerand, explains the difference between harmonious passion and obsessive passion.
Applied in running, obsessive passion is when people take to running out of compulsion – not just competitive runners who run for their livelihood, but also those who feel obliged to run due to social pressures, fame, and self-aggrandisement. They focus on the outcome and ignore the joy that comes during the run. Such obsession would force them to run regardless of their physical or mental condition, which leads to injuries.
On the other hand, harmonious passion is when someone derives joy during the run as well as when finishing the run. It could be from watching the sunrise, enjoing the camaraderie with fellow runners, breathing in the morning fresh air, or post-run breakfasts. For such runners, every run is an experience and there are no good or bad runs; all timings are their personal best, slow or fast. They just don’t stop with running and contribute actively to help others enjoy the same, be it volunteering for events, coming out to cheer during marathons, or pacing their friends in events.
It is important to constantly evaluate our relationship with running. It can be harmonious as well as obsessive at different time periods. It is true that running can become another addiction and not necessarily good always. Stretching physical limits often can result in fatigue physically and eventually, mentally.
Many times, when asked if I run everyday, I am lost for an appropriate answer. I certainly don’t run everyday – my historical records over the last 6,000 days show that I have run only about 36% of the days. I certainly don’t intend to do it everyday and rarely run when I am physically or mentally fit enough to do so. I have often and willingly missed my run in order to volunteer, cycle, trek, play football, or for early breakfast meets. And I have never regretted missing running on those days. Being able to run everyday or run whenever I want is something I would like to choose for myself. But, I am aware it depends on various factors, internal and external, and I have no regrets in making those compromises. It is when we find it difficult to make such compromises, running becomes problematic.
Every run is not a race to be won; it is just another step in making running a part of our life. Like the disclosures in mutual fund advertisements, past performance never guarantees the same performance for future, it is the same in running too. In conclusion, I would like paraphrase from David McCullogh’s famous speech….
Run, so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.
Run because you can and Run because you love to. Else, just Stop Running, or in Phil Knight’s style,
P.S – You can stop running only if you start running in the first place… So, get started first.
PPS - Special Thanks to my good friend Pankaja for a quick review