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.


RM said...

Well your perspective is simply that - yours. There are a lot of people out there who just run. That's all. It doesn't serve some vain purpose. The person that most comes to mind when I think of that is Pete Mulligan. Dude just likes to run. Doesn't care about winning, looking good, staying fit, or necessarily even socializing. Just runs.

For you, one who has achieved a certain level of relative greatness, it's different. You are almost purely motivated by ego.

For me, it's seeing what is humanly possible sometimes.

For Mike Prada it's...well it's...

Anyway the whole purpose of Lent isn't to necessarily give something material up. This is a common mistake of most people that decide to abide by the rules of Lent. They do it because it enables them to complain about having to give something up. WRONG!

Really, if you're giving something up, you're supposed to GIVE IT UP for good. Not just 40 days. Jesus certainly had to give up something for much more than 40 days. The more conventional ideal would be to take something on - a better characteristic or trait, perhaps. Give up being a hedonist, give up cursing, try to be a better person. Something you can practice year round, not just when it's convenient.

And stepping off his Catholic school soapbox...

fbg said...

I probably sounded like I was on a soapbox, too. I didn't write that post for people like you, who know that running is just something you do. I wrote it for everyone with the Pre poster on their bedroom wall, who believes that they cannot "sacrifice the gift", or else it would be some sort of travesty. It's for everyone who thinks Brian Sell is a blue-collar demigod because he works so hard at his sport. I respect him, too, but I want to make it clear that his sacrifices "for the sport" are for personal glory alone. And, for all the people who find great runners "inspiring", I can't disagree, but hopefullly they are inspired to do something other than seek personal accolades.

I'll say it: I sacrificed the gift; now crucify me.

I'm not catholic, so I don't know what Lent is all about, but I was pretty sure that people usually give up something for that time. And even if they begin to eat chocolate, or drink alcohol, again after Easter, the point is that they showed self control and made a sort of sacrifice for its own sake. I think trying to be a better person is a year-round thing. And I don't like hearing people complain about it either, because that negates the point.

RM said...

Yeah I feel you, and actually the combination of topics in this post relate to our good friend Ryan Hall. Are you really running for God? Why would God give a shit if you run and win stuff? Other than giving God props after a race, how are you running any more selflessly than anyone else?

But seriously, I'm just giving you a hard time - pretty much everything that everyone does is motivated in some large way by vanity. That's why it's a deadly sin.

Working harder at work to get a promotion and more money is for oneself. Running more to run faster is for oneself. Even if the goal is to provide more for your family or something, it's then so you can be the hero dad.

Hostility is the root of all comedy.