Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Fallen, Born Again (Runner)?

The blogger (left) competing in a 5-mile road race in March 2009.
Recently, I have begun to accept myself as a "fallen runner" or sorts. If a "fallen Catholic" (a term used frequently by my grandparents) can be used to describe someone who was once a church-goer, but no longer attends, then I am certainly a "fallen runner" of sorts. In years past (as evidenced by this blog's existence over the previous five(!)) I have at different points been extremely committed to signing up for and competing in any variety of formal road races from small 5k fundraisers to 192 mile relays across Western state lines at a clip of almost a road race a weekend. I've represented running clubs in marathon relays and myself been a local age-group "Runner of the Year" for my efforts. I share these things not just to blow my own horn, but to let you know that I have been "there" picking up finisher's medals, cheering on folks completing their first 3.1 miles, and eating chili with them following a rainy half-marathon.

Over the past two years my receding level of involvement (and interest) has made me something of a "yo-yo runner,"; taking the months from September to April "off" to coach or simply vegetate, returning in the Spring to train for a single tent pole race, most often our city's annual half or full marathon. When asked "why the disengagement?" by those fine folks I used to spend each weekend warming up and racing against, I'm hard pressed to come up with an answer that makes sense.

As is often the case, it is much easier to find others who are smarter and more articulate to at least get at why my own fallen state has taken such a hold. Despite not training myself, I have stayed involved in the art and act of running in the interest of improving my own coaching acumen and because I once loved the culture of the distance running community. Among the sources for my reading are any number of training blogs, among them Sherpa John: Human Potential, who recently posted regarding the mainstream growth of ultra running (competing over a distance greater than 26.2 miles). As part of his conclusion, he mentioned that "Ultra running has indeed entered a time which no one thought it ever would. The biggest issue... protecting the culture that was built from the early days of our sport through to 2006.. our culture is getting lost by the number$..." and there it was. The "$." It would be easy (and a cop-out) to suggest that "money made me not love the sport," and this commerce mentality is not just applicable to ultra running--just check out how many 5ks there are in your community this weekend.

In the comments to the blog posting, Josh notes that "The ultra running community will re-birth when we give races the finger and get back to where we started. Fat Asses. Once we give up on the hype, the shirts, the buckles, the LOOK WHAT I DID ON FACEBOOK STATUS UPDATES. And just do what we love, because we love it, with people that feel the same way. Until that day happens. Ultra running has jumped the shark and has gone the way of the road 5k. Check your watches, you might be off pace...." Though a snarky comment, something in this rings true. Maybe part of why I lost interest was my own over-investment in the culture of road racing and the necessity of paid participation for inclusion in this in exclusive club.

I am reminded of one of my coaching mentors who, in addition to possessing a great deal of training knowledge and a masterful grasp on race strategy, and who at the age of 55 still runs almost daily. Despite all this knowledge and potential for competition, he never competes in a road race himself. When I was at the peak of my own "racing career" (it even feels silly typing that) I asked him why he had never run road races as surely he could win his age group at least. "I last ran a 5k in the early eighties, did well in my age group, and never ran another."

"Why?" I asked--surely winning an age group would be a good thing.

"I decided that I'm not paying somebody to run," he told me flatly, "I run because I love it not because I need trinkets." I noble sentiment and one I aspire to, though I  for one still benefit from a target race to reinforce my own motivation to train. Maybe, I'll just dial back the road races from 20 in six months to one at the end of a cycle. Or maybe I'll just run (and write about it) for the love of it...

While I am a "fallen runner," I am open to becoming a born again, and so the quiet personal journey of training begins to take take root, again, this time more covertly, and personally, than in the past.

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