In the animal kingdom you awake and run. You run to catch food or run to escape becoming another’s meal. The metaphor is unfortunately apt for the business world where one eats or is eaten and so running to, from, and around others is a daily challenge.
But why run when one’s food or rung on the corporate ladder are not at stake? Why change into stupidly expensive shoes to take to roadways and trails to pant and sweat and endure pain and risk injury? Why embark on long treks that always bring you right back to the start?
John Stanton has made a successful business from those questions. He founded The Running Room that now has storefronts across Canada. He wrote Running Room’s Book on Running that has enjoyed several editions. Its opening sentence states, “The book is for all those people who want to strengthen their bodies, calm and stimulate their minds and soothe their souls. Running improves us mentally, physically and spiritually.” Well, it certainly continues to improve Mr. Stanton financially. Good on him, I say. But, for me, he’s only partly right.
I began running while in university when a friend spoke of its relieving stress and improving fitness. She was right. I began with short distances and after a week or so I did indeed begin to feel better. I soon began to lose some of the weight my discovery of beer had afforded me and became a big fan of endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters secreted by the pituitary gland and parts of the brain that reduce pain and cause stimulation similar to morphine. They lead to a feeling of euphoria called “runner’s high”. I confess that it’s quite wonderful. But less stress, fewer pounds and a free high are not why I run.
As my distances increased I developed the desire to run a marathon. It’s a silly notion really. After all one can argue that it is natural to run as our forebears ran from wild beasts but no predator will chase you for 26.2 miles. That distance is silly too. It’s based on the ancient Greek tale of Philippides who ran 24 miles from Marathon to Athens to report a military victory. He delivered the news, said, “Joy to you” and then, by the way, dropped stone dead. The final 2.2 miles was added for the 1908 London Olympics so that the race could begin at Windsor Castle and end directly before the Royal Family’s White City stadium viewing box.
I ran the Ottawa Capital Marathon with my youngest brother. We had not trained properly and had the wrong shoes and really had no good reason to finish – but we did. I crossed the line and nearly fell into the arms of my dear wife who supports all of my wacky endeavors with the patience of Job squared. I made her pledge that she would never let me run another marathon.
A couple of years later I was preparing to do it again. For the first while I jogged. It’s a nice loping affair punctuated by frequent walks. I then began running, which involves a quicker pace and fewer breaks. I then began training. I created a schedule based on Mr. Stanton’s book, timed myself, recorded my runs, ran hills, ran fartleks (google it), ran in the cold and rain, and tended to frown a lot. Training, after all, is serious business.
I ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon a lot quicker than I had done the Ottawa. I leapt over the finish line and felt proud of my accomplishment. This time, I could not wait to do another. I completed two more. I ran the last one with a slight hamstring pull so my speed was off and the enjoyment gone.
After a long while off I was pain free but found it difficult to muster the will to move from jogging to running to training. My goal shifted from speed and endurance to the avoidance of injury. In the parlance of the vertical ice cube trays where too many well-dressed, high-stressed people work each day, I guess I’d moved from trying to say smart things in meetings to avoiding saying anything stupid. When that line is crossed, it’s over.
Except, it was not over – not by a long shot. I finally figured out why I run. It is not for the endorphins. It is not to train for another marathon and whatever ego-driven competitiveness those things involve. I discovered it nearly seven years ago. This morning I was reminded.
This morning I was cradling someone who is precious to me in a way that only another grandparent can truly understand. She is only six weeks old. Our eyes met. We held our gaze for a long while until a tear found my eye. I want to see her grow. I want to cheer her games, play with her on the climbers, slide down snow mountains, share her jokes, console her heartaches, and, later, explain why boys are indeed crazy but her Mom is really not. And for all that I need to stay healthy and for that I need to remain fit.
So tomorrow, I will plug in my ear pods, tune into to a favorite playlist or CBC podcast, and lope my way down the trail. I might run. But I will probably just jog. As I ignore creaky knees, await endorphins, and wallow in the beauty of the river on one side and farmland and forest on the other, I will know exactly why I’m there.
If you enjoyed this column, please share it with others through your social media of choice and consider leaving a comment or following my weekly blog.