The Pursuit of One (Part 1)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why do I run?

I have been asking myself this from the moment I decided to lace up my shoes and run. I have been a beginner many times over. When people ask me how long I have been running – I say I started 2003 but I am really just a veteran beginner.

Marathoner and author Jeff Galloway has this interesting article on Five Stages of A Runner. I first read about it in a blog entry of Running Diva, and was pleasantly surprised to see the same article in a marathon book recently shared to me by friend Lauren.

According to Galloway, to be a Beginner is to get your feet wet. He adds,

“The seeds of exercise – if you don’t crush it them – will survive periods of moisture and drought….Many beginners stop and start again 10 or 15 times before they get the habit established”

Fortunately for me, in my 4 or 5 times of on-off running (i.e. running to lose weight quickly, stopping when desired loss is reached), I did progress to Jogger status. To be a Jogger is to appreciate the value of fitness.

“Rarely does a jogger have a plan or goal. Most run as a healthy diversion and don’t feel the need to get anything more out of it.”

As a Jogger, I did join my fair share of few 5Ks, several 10Ks, and even 16ks and 25ks. The 10K was my favorite distance, and while my time then was 1:15-1:20, I had a grand time starting slow, running steady and overtaking runners fading towards the end. I was a happy jogger seeing a couple of friends, keeping my own time, and not bothering about official race results.

When I went back to running in August 2008, I was a beginner and jogger once again. Then I stumbled into these running blogs. These bloggers would rave about how they love running. Love? What the hell are they talking about? Running is a chore – sometimes pleasant – something that one does to lose weight or bring down one’s blood pressure.

I would always remember with fondness New Balance for its love/hate campaign. At the height of that campaign, I found love. Six years after being formally introduced, I fell in love with running. Loving her for what she is and what she represents. Suddenly, I was a runner in a deeper sense. Slow runner yes, but burning with passion and seemingly on a different plane.

While runners around me incessantly talk about personal bests and pushing one’s limits, I learned to appreciate the beauty of the solo run and the joy of the group run. I am happy doing my solitary runs and the dream-like, heavenly state I go to every time I run. I enjoy conquering longer distances, rejoice in the tiny increments of my personal times, and smile when I notice the slow transformation of that person I see in the mirror. I often have a blast when I join group runs.

I asked myself where am I in Galloway’s five stages. Have I progressed to Competitor, Athlete or Runner? At this point I can’t make myself to call this slowpoke a Competitor. I shudder with the pretense of calling myself an Athlete. Have I progressed to being a Runner? Galloway dispenses the following nuggets of wisdom:

“Not all joggers enter this (Competitor) stage. Many simply remain joggers, while a very few pass directly to the stage of a “runner”.

“As a runner, you’ll enjoy the companionship of running with others, but most of your running will be alone. You appreciate the peace and inner reflection provided by the solitary run more than you did in the early stages.”

“Great satisfaction comes from being able to mold your body into what it is capable of doing. You enjoy the art of combining just the right amounts of strength, endurance, form, and performance training. A race can be the icing on the cake, the opportunity to pull out deep hidden strengths. Once you’re in this frame of mind, the joy lies not in the race, but in the running.”

“As a runner you experience the enjoyment of each stage and retain the best of each of them. You relieve the beginner’s excitement in discovery, appreciate the jogger’s balance of fitness and enthusiasm, share the competitor’s ambition, and internalize the athlete’s quest.

Am I a Runner? As much as I empathize with many aspects of the Runner, I find myself lacking in several aspects. I feel I deliberately avoided the Competitor stage and have not molded myself enough in the Athlete state.

What does it really take to compete and push one’s limits?

Why the aversion to competition and the reticence to push?

I have been asking these questions as early as November of last year. Back then I have some sense of the answer (e.g. somewhere along the lines of Desiderata’s “if you compare yourself with others, you will become either vain or bitter”). Somehow, the answer does not seem complete. Gingerbreadman touched on a related topic weeks back, but it only served to remind me of a conundrum I have yet to solve. Dean Hebert on the other hand coined the phrase reticence to push and that hit me in the solar plexus.

I have come to realize that my reticence to push comes not out of being non-competitive nor fear of failure, but from personally knowing what competition can do to you. Competition can make or break you. One must know not only what he is competing for but more importantly, why he is competing. One must also know well his hierarchy of values, for the in pursuit of competition, those values will be continually assessed and challenged. Competition has a prize and a price. Sometimes, the winner ends up the loser. One must not only be prepared to pay the price; one must make sure the price paid was worth it. The thrill of competition is a good come-on, but one must guard that the passion does not morph into obsession, or rage so brightly it leads to burn-out. Nothing is so miserable like a burned-out passion – to loathe something that you used to love.

Galloway writes about the art of racing:

“I’ve come to believe that race times and age group awards are great for the ego. But you shouldn’t let your ego determine your ultimate satisfaction from running. I’ve seen too many runners burn out because they start with a few races, then start measuring their progress only by time improvement. Finally they judge the quality of a run, or the status of another runner solely by the minutes and seconds in the race results, or PR (personal record), and quit running.

So why do I want to compete now? Because in the proper context and with God’s grace, competition does bring out the best in us. In Galloway terms, when a Competitor strives to be the best of what he can be, he graduates to becoming an Athlete. To compete does not mean to be always number one. It is not always the pursuit of number one.

To compete is to run with the best so you too can reach your best.

The Pursuit of All (Part 2)


David June 10, 2009 at 2:21 PM  

Same here, I started running 2006 but it still feels like I've just started. I'd like to keep it that way though, simply because I don't want it to end. If there's one thing I'd like to improve on, it's making every step I make useful or significant one way or another. An advocady probably. :)

Gingerbreadman June 11, 2009 at 9:33 AM  

Very nice post Boss Rix. I think at one point or another, we all morph into competitors - that special element that traces its roots to our neanderthal ancestors. Right now I could say that you are no longer a jogger... you're a bona fide runner no doubt :)


Rico Villanueva June 12, 2009 at 8:29 PM  

David, I agree with you on the part of not wanting the running high to end and that of making running as some form of advocacy.

Luis, I do want to "morph" into competitor, but I hope to transcend that as well. In due time we shall all be runners who encompass all stages.

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