The Full-Throttle Waddle
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 wassomeone 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
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 couldevery 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 possibleas 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
The point of equilibriumof balancebetween
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 peace.
Other days I just need to run the milesto 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 that day.
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 the
And I run as fast as necessary to find those answers.
Waddle on, friends.