3 min read

Running as a Non-Runner

The outside world is messy. It’s ridden with uncertainty, mishaps, and unrealistic expectations. A run, as a proxy for life, allows us to glean lessons of control, mental strength, and realism that we can employ mid-run and beyond.
Running as a Non-Runner

Two weeks ago, I went for a long run on the greenbelt. I warmed up the ol’ knees, dry scooped some preworkout, and ran 8.69 miles with a 10:34 minutes per mile pace. Surely, to the frequent runner, the pace and distance were mediocre, but for me, the feat was outstanding.

I never had much of a proclivity for running. Maybe it’s because I grew up playing basketball, but I never understood why one would endure mental and physical distress with no real goal other than getting from point A to B fast (sorry, runners). After two years of track in middle school, and no 1st place performances, I relinquished running for years. To me, running was always a means towards a bigger physical effort—sprinting for a layup or playing with dogs—not the solo objective itself. However, within recent weeks, my opinion has slightly shifted.

I’m challenging my aversion to the sport thanks to three of my coworkers who are hardcore runners. One runs sub 3-hour marathons and 100k trail runs, while another can hold 9-min miles for eternity, and the other runs sub 6 minute miles during lunch breaks. As an astonished eavesdropper in their running discussions, I feel like I’m missing out. So, with a big shove from admiration and FOMO, I’m now running again.

What I respect (I can’t say enjoy just yet) about running is its translatability to life. Like employing quadrat sampling as a representative subsample of an ecosystem, running proves to be an educational representation of life.

Life, in simple terms, is a series of branching decisions. Monumental life events like marriage can be reduced to a set of choices rooted by the decision to love and leap, while even the insignificant, like tomorrow’s dinner, can be narrowed down to a handful of grocery store selections. In the decision tree of life the origins and destinations of each decision are obscure. Our present selves always possess the bias that our decisions will irreparably impact our future, but in reality, it’s impossible to know.

This is where running excels as a controllable proxy for life. An uninterrupted run also is a set of decisions, but unlike life, it’s oriented around a single origin and destination. During a run we can make decisions to increase our pace to reach our destination faster, or control our breathing to diminish the physical demand. Running smooths out the messy immeasurable glory of life by providing metrics like pace, distance, and heart rate. Within the duration of our run, success is ours to define and achieve. Certainly, a run can introduce uncertainties, but much of it feels within the runners control.

Despite this control, running delivers its share of challenges. With every stride, a new decision branch furcates, challenging us to stop or press forward. Not only does running train the body, I’ve found that it sharpens the mind. Whether we run on a treadmill or on a path, an outside observer is unaware of how long we planned to run or how fast. Whether we run for two minutes or thirty, every step is in complete disagreement with what’s easy.  Between the runners origin and destination is a path paved by self accountability. When we step rather than stop we prune the branches to quit, and reap the mental rewards of accepting the challenge.

Running may give our lives a sense of control and strengthen our minds, but as a non-runner, maybe the most liberating aspect of the sport is knowing your current capabilities. In a world of status and competition, it’s easy to irrationally play comparisons. In life, we taint our aspirations with the discouragement of shoulds. I should be happier, I should be wealthier, I should be smarter. However, during a run, shoulds easily dissolve into cans and cannots. Running is indiscriminate, and as a sample for life, reminds us that it’s incomprehensible to expect the unrealistic. If we’re new to the track or trail we never say I should be running marathons or I should be running 4 minute miles. We don’t expect much outside the realm of our physical bounds, but when we extend our expectations to the outside world, all sense is lost.

I may just be in the honeymoon phase with the sport, but maybe the runners are onto something. Running is more than traveling from point A to point B, it’s a lesson for life. The outside world is messy. It’s ridden with uncertainty, mishaps, and unrealistic expectations. A run, as a proxy for life, allows us to glean lessons of control, mental strength, and realism that we can employ mid-run and beyond. Fortunately for us non-runners, we don’t need to be Olympians or record holders to benefit from the sport. We just need to take control, decide to step rather than stop, and grow by pushing the bounds of our capabilities.

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