My monthly column "The Chronicles" has appeared in Runner's
World magazine since May 1996. I'll be posting one of my favorite past
columns from RW here every month. The column posted the previous month
will then be moved to the online
All runners eventually get asked the question: "Why
do you run?" The question often is asked by someone who's thinking
about starting. Sometimes it is asked by a person like I once was-someone
who truly doesn't understand the act of running, let alone the sport.
Most runners have their own answer to "Why do you run?"
Their responses usually have to do with how running makes them feel
or look or think. Some enjoy the solitude of running, while others
appreciate the social aspects. The answer often tells you more about
the person than about running.
As I was thinking about why I run, a nonrunning friend asked me
a question that was far more difficult to answer. His question?
How do you know how fast to run? That stopped me dead in my tracks.
I had no idea.
I remembered a quote by author Robert Pirsig. He wrote: "Mountains
should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without
desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed.
If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down.
You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and
exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep
isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself."
Recalling that quote, I thought about the formal dictates of my
pace. Where am I in my year? Am I logging base miles or honing my
skills for a particular race? Am I doing my long, slow run or a
tempo run today? I quickly realized none of these factors had anything
to do with how fast I run.
In the early stages of my running, the answer to "How fast?"
was easy. I always ran as fast as I could-every time I put
on my shoes. I thought that was what runners did. As I was able
to run faster, I did. All of the time. It was as if I was afraid
that overnight I would forget how to run.
I used to worry about how fast I ran. I calculated the exact pace
needed to run as far as I could in the time I had. If I had only
an hour, I ran as fast as possible to cover as many miles as possible-as
if by running more miles I would be more of a runner.
As I began to understand more about myself and about running, my
answer to "How fast?" changed. Now I find that I run as
fast as I need to. Like Pirsig on the mountain, I've found that
how fast I run is somewhere between restlessness and exhaustion.
The point of equilibrium-of balance-between restlessness
and exhaustion is there every day, but not always at the same place.
It is dictated more by my state of mind than my state of fitness.
Some days I need to run with great effort to achieve the balance.
I need to feel my lungs burn and my legs ache in order to be at
Other days I just need to run the miles-to move forward at
whatever pace. I need to feel my body in motion and know that every
step is carrying me away from people and responsibilities. I need
to keep putting one foot in front of the other simply to prove to
myself that I can. I need to know I am in control of my pace and,
for that moment, my life.
I never seem to know for sure how fast I'll have to run on any given
day to achieve that equilibrium. Despite a detailed training plan
and goals and races, most days it comes down to looking inside and
asking my soul how fast we both need to run today.
Like so many other lessons I've learned from running, I'm beginning
to see that this equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion
can be achieved in my nonrunning life as well. I'm beginning to
understand that I don't need to test my emotional limits every day.
I'm beginning to look inside myself for the emotional pace I need
Now, when I'm asked why I run, the answer comes quickly. I run because
it is through running that I find answers to many of the other questions
in my life. I run to have a place that serves as my emotional laboratory.
I run to perform the emotional experiments that will lead me to
And I run as fast as necessary to find those answers.
Waddle on, friends.
Thought of the Day
"I was the next to last finisher, but I had won the most important
race, the race against myself."
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