2009-04-02

The Vice Squad

It occured to me some time ago, as I was having a discussion about Lent and the prospect of giving something up during these forty symbolic days. Most people give up chocolate, alcohol, coffee, or even cigarettes. Usually it's something at least somewhat addictive, in some sense, which causes problems for that person. Perhaps they avoid something to lose weight, improve their health, or increases their quality of life.

I thought about this for a while, and even though at the time I drank coffee and beer a few times per week, though almost never at the same time, I decided I wasn't addicted to anything I ate or drank, and I don't think I consumed enough of anything for it to do damage of note. I decided that my only addiction---at least among habits and things I do---is running.

It's more an addition to pride, but that's another post altogether. The point is that quitting running is, for me, not really a possibility. I didn't run for eight weeks at the end of last year, but then I had to start again. I've gone longer periods of time running just two or three days per week, but that's still regular running, and I could still crack 16 minutes for a 5k. But as soon as I got served on a silver platter, I was back in the saddle, looking for my next quick fix.

Running is healthy, right? It's not a vice, is it? Considering that when I'm seriously training, I spend at least one week per month extremely tired and some degree of sick, I'm not too sure. And then there's the time I could be spending doing any of my other hobbies. That bothers me to think of everything I could be doing: how many books I could have read, how much I could have written, how good I might be at playing the drums, or what kind of fun stuff I could have gotten into with my friends.

But those are the sacrifices we make as runners. About 20% of our waking hours are dedicated directly to the sport, and the rest of our time is planned around it. Runners earn a lot of respect with their ability to make sacrifices for one end: not to sacrifice The Gift. It's a noble cause to chase our bodies' limits and our athletic dreams, or is it? My running doesn't help anybody but me, at least not like being a doctor helps people stay healthy, or like teachers educate youngsters. It's merely another pursuit of ego, like Ultimate Fighting Championship or a beauty contest, or a social event, like a keg party or a trip to an amusement park, nothing more. A man is not great because he chooses to forego a lifestyle, a career, or any of life's pleasures to become the fastest runner he can be. He may become a great runner, but not a great man. With the exception of those runners who feed their families with prize money, all great runners became great for one reason: themselves. Call it pride, desire, will, ego, narcissism, ambition, whatever you want; it's all the same.

I don't want to tear down our sport, I just have this welling feeling inside of me that we should stop holding our performances and sacrifices on a pedestal, and recognize running as a narcissistic, hedonistic pasttime that can be enjoyed with others and feels good when it's over, like sex.

That being said, I enjoy taking names, bashing heads, cracking skulls, digging deep, dropping the hammer, rolling out, and unwinding my wound-up speed on anybody who chooses to race me. And that's what I'm going to keep on doing, when I can. But I'm not going to look at myself or anyone else like I would look at Mother Theresa simply because they got 120 miles in last week. That's your choice; this is my choice; we're all after the same thing.
Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.