Why we run?

Geoff Roes’ essay contest on iRunfar has resulted in a worthy winning piece of creative writing, and a very interesting reflection by Geoff on the trends he saw in the corpus of 103 answers he received. My kinda answer didn’t fit the two major categories but received separate mention in his reading of the collective mindset of runners as exemplified by these essays:

There were also a handful of entrants that touched on the idea of running simply because they are instinctively and inherently runners. I particularly liked these thoughts as well. “I run because I am a runner.” It sounds so simple, and almost too cliché, but perhaps most of us are fueled by something this simple and inherent…I will always be a runner, even if I go years without running.

I’ll use Geoff’s insights as my excuse to return one last time to my bafflement about that collective mindset of (trail)runners. Had hoped my excessively long musings about trends in trailrunning would make for a mind satisfied, but it wasn’t. His insights opened up a whole new way of thinking about it, that may or may not be closer to the truth. Anyway, given that the answer to the biggest question of them all is widely known (42), and that we all sort of know the one to the subsumed, and thus comparatively easier problem of life (see below), it is deeply mystifying that the at heart totally unimportant question of why I or anyone else keeps running seems to defy us. So time to turn away from this bottomless pit. I’ll throw one last answer into it and then declare the matter closed.

Let me first summarize Geoff’s insights:

  • Most distinct trend of why the author runs in the set of 103 short (max 350 words) essays (i.e. in 50%+ of them): running as therapy/coping mechanism
  • Nearly equally important (50%): running to get into a different more meditative head space (flow, being in the moment, connect with oneself, runner’s high, etc.)

The vast majority of essays fit into one (or both) of these two categories. 

  • Some: running as providing a sense of accomplishment (which I translate as a sub-category of the first trend and thus not something separate)
  • Some: running because one is a runner (I translate: an effort to not get hung up on the why question but look for answers in the acceptance of not questioning anymore)

The answer I submitted fell into the last category, but contained a second line of less explicit argument about running as a way to connect with one’s environs, of letting the chatter of the monkey mind quieten down and the landscape (which could also be a city as in the case of my essay) take over.  That’s what I struggled with in the the post on trailrunning trends, my perception that so little trailrunning PR seems to be about the natural environment that supposedly is a major reason for runners to prefer trails, seek out mountainscapes, deserts and other wilderness. The PR is all about runners’ interior, running as a tool of coping, self-improvement, meditation or reaching a high. Clearly Geoff’s essay contest result confirms that the PR is spot on given the self-assessment of the overwhelming majority of trailrunners (I assume, they are the audience of iRunFar.com that hosted the contest).

When I expressed my wonder about this, Geoff replied:

In response to your questions about all of these things being focused on the internal self and thus seemingly disconnected from the surrounding environment I would say that there were several essays that did touch on running as a means of connecting to, observing, or gaining a closeness to the environment we run in…[But] there were very few essays that touched on this as a primary reason to run… most essays that did mention anything having to do with the surrounding environment did so as an addition to a larger meaning.  In other words I think this was a very common secondary reason to run, but only a primary reason for a small handful of people…. probably fewer than 5 out of 103.

My trends post ranted about the promo visuals of races and gear manufacturers being so out of touch with the accompanying commentary. The visuals all suggested a nature-focused experience to me, depicting stunning landscapes, the commentaries are mostly dominated by explicit self-exploration verbiage. But I now Intuit that my reading of the visuals is incorrect. One’s perception reflects one’s pre-existing focus and mine obviously is fringe. So what I see is probably not what (most) other viewers perceive. For most the stunning landscapes must be evocative of their interior aspirations.

That is how brand videos work isn’t it? Visuals and words co-determine each other. I thought that whatever the intimidating commentary gets at, the imagery accompanying it underlines the grandeur of the landscape and inoculate against hearing what is really being said. Far from it. The grandeur reinforces the story told. That still entices people to participate in events that really are not for them, are a size or two too big for them, and are not going to deliver on what they hope for. But the outward directed message I saw in the visuals is not there at all.

That obviously doesn’t yet undermine the assessment of people not being primarily outward but inward focused when making sense of their own running. Having said that: what does it exactly mean when someone claims inward/outward directedness is primary/secondary? Take my own big mouth: letting the chatter of the monkey mind quieten down and the landscape take over.  That much for the zen, and I certainly wouldn’t deny an element of coping involved. So what is primary/secondary here?  The non-dualist in me would argue ‘neither’ because they reflect each other. However true that may be, I cannot escape the intuition that it matters what story one tells oneself (and the rest) about it.  And thus that it matters if one talks about oneself or if one talks about the landscape.

Ergo? I really don’t know, most probably never will, which is a good reason to quit making such a fuss about it.

Won’t be easy to control the beast within with the below to come, but I’ll put up a fight. Promise.

About roger henke

Still figuring out the story line that would satisfy myself here. Listening to what my family and friends evoke, what the words I absorb, the images that move me, the movements that still me, point to.
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One Response to Why we run?

  1. Pingback: Making amends | roger henke's fancies

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