While many runners think fondly about the concept of running, the act of running doesn't always make people happy. Running can be humbling, intimidating, humiliating and even angering. So we need to separate the act of running and the pursuit of running.
Running is a pathway of happiness. At least, it is for most of the folks I know who run. There may be secondary reasons why people run (to lose weight, to stay healthy, to compete, to lower cholesterol, to reduce stress, etc…) but face it, all of those secondary reasons lead back to happiness. Running is a pathway of happiness! Let it be known that I finally have used that philosophy minor I earned at Lock Haven University.
But to be honest, the act of running doesn’t always make people happy. And taking it one step further, running can be humbling, intimidating, humiliating and even angering. So it appears that we need to separate out the act of running and the pursuit of running.
I’ve noted over the past years of writing “Thoughts on the Run” that I often talk about the highs, the euphoria, the self-actualizing and the satisfying side of “the Run.” But rarely do I talk about the lows. And let’s face it, without the lows, there really can be no highs. Me and White Goodman - philosophizing!
I have started 29 marathons over my 39-year running career. Before you ask, no, there will not be a 30th. Now note I did not say I have finished 29 marathons. In fact, I have only finished 21 of them. I did not enter, pay my $100, train for four months and in some cases travel hundreds of miles just to drop out. I was pursuing happiness!
One of my lowest lows came in the 2010 Vermont Marathon, where I checked out mentally after 20 minutes of running and physically at about 18 miles. Oddly, I also dropped out of the Vermont Marathon 15 years earlier at about the 15k point. Apparently, Vermont and I were not on speaking terms at the time.
Those two races, the acts of running, were miserable and humbling experiences. But in the bigger picture, they were a necessary part of my pursuit. Both of these events significantly hurt my psyche. Both cost me both time and money. Both left me having to explain the outcome to both my circle of running friends and, more importantly, to myself. And both (here’s the good part) provided a springboard to continue pursuing my pathway of happiness (OF, not TO).
One of the things that I have always preached about act of running is that it has to be an end unto itself. In other words, the process should be as important as the destination. If you are hating the journey, the destination really can’t be worth it, can it? Pursuing that pathway is what keeps bad experiences from derailing us.
In 2010, even before I got off the airplane from Vermont, I had started to formulate how I would use my hard-earned fitness from marathon training and put it towards another pathway of happiness. By the end of 2010, I was racing at a level I hadn’t seen in a few years, including two solid 5-mile races and two solid 10k races.
We all have those moments, those days, even those weeks where things go awry. You gain three pounds as you attempt to lose 10. You walk in a 5k that you swore you’d run every step. You drop out of a marathon (or 8) after training your butt off. Know that every pathway has at least one unintended exit that on occasion you will take. And know that it’s okay when it happens. As I’ve already mentioned, highs are high because lows exist. Every step, every run, every workout isn’t always going to be blissful. But in the end, that pathway of happiness is paved with effort.
So, go pursue your happiness, in whatever form or shape you define it to be, one stride at a time. A runner’s joys know no bounds, so long as you accept the occasional low. And know that somewhere, White Goodman and my college philosophy profs are smiling, and Vermont wants me back.
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.