Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sisyphus in running shoes

I recently ran my fifteenth marathon, and with the experience came the now-familiar set of questions:

In the shuttle on my way to the start: Wait, now why did I sign up to do this, again?

In the middle miles, when pain and exhaustion are setting in: How could I forget what this feels like? What am I doing out here?

And after I’ve had a post-race beer, a warm shower, and a couple of Advil: Which one should I do next?

All good questions. With answers that I apparently keep forgetting. Which I think may kind of be the point.

Everyone needs opportunities to find out - or be reminded of - what they’re made of, and my recent marathon was one such opportunity. I’m blessed with what I consider to be a remarkably happy and healthy life, and believe that it’s this position of relative privilege that draws me – and many people like me – to the marathon. I have my share of your everyday struggles, but life is not hard for me in the ways that it is for so many. I don’t wonder where my next meal will come from. I don’t live in chronic pain. My family is safe. I believe that struggle is essential to the human experience, and that those of us who don’t need to struggle to survive necessarily create ways to test ourselves.

At times we do this in unconscious ways, inviting drama and chaos into areas of our lives where it need not be. At times we do this in unhealthy and unproductive ways, through self-sabotage at work, or the development of habits that we then need to learn how to break. And at times we do this in marvelous, inspiring ways. Scientists and engineers striving for the next great innovation. Diplomats reaching for peace. Athletes pushing the boundaries of what we think is humanly possible. Middle-aged schlubs pounding out the long miles every weekend, in pursuit of their next big personal achievement.

Am I counting recreational athletes like myself among the scientists, engineers, diplomats, and elite athletes that are out there changing the world? Sort of, yes. Do I think that my completion of a marathon compares to a scientist developing the cure for Alzheimer’s disease? Of course not. But I do think that what runners are out there doing every day matters, and that the ways that non-runners find to stretch and challenge themselves matter. I think this intrinsic need for struggle is why sport exists in every human society, why games and “play” are important. We’re all out there day after day, living our struggle in our own personal ways, inching closer toward self-realization with every little victory. Every time I make it through a difficult day of work, mend a broken relationship with someone I care about, or knock out a tempo run that I didn’t think I could do, I contribute something to the world, and I’m a better person for that struggle.


  1. I don't think I have ever read something that summarizes why I keep trying to become a distance runner or why I feel so much better when I run. I tend to toy with drama and self sabotage but when I run I don't have the desire or energy for it! Thank you for running with me today and thank you for writing this!

    1. Oh, I'm so glad to know that this resonates! Running has served me so well through the years. I wish its effects could be bottled and saved for emergencies. =)