Running – an absurd past-time!!

“Running, one might say, is basically an absurd past-time upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: Life”                                                                                                    – Bill Bowerman

I came through this quote in 2009 while watching the movie ‘Without Limits’ along with a group of friends one Sunday afternoon (five of us glued to a 14″ laptop screen). The movie is based on the life of a renowned American distance runner – Steve Prefontaine (January 25, 1951 – May 30, 1975), who has been an inspiration to many recreational, amateur and professional runners till date.  The quote was delivered to the ‘Oregon Ducks track and field team’, by their head coach Bill Bowerman at University of Oregon, throughout his tenure, since 1948.  During his stint as coach at the University of Oregon for 24 years, the track and field team had won every season but one. The team went on to achieve 4 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles, and finished in the top 10 in the USA 16 times. Bill Bowerman’s quote therefore, surely, found its connect with the athletes and served its rightful purpose, year after year, by motivating the professional runners intrinsically to achieve the goals set by their coach and runners themselves.

The beauty of this quote, as I perceive it, is that it connects people of all generations, ages, demography and professions through a common activity called Running.  I have judiciously referred running as an activity instead of a sport in order to describe its applicability in my own life as a runner and also the way it is perceived by many others whom I meet on the roads, placing their strides one ahead of the other, every Sunday morning. I am an average runner whose desire to run has grown year after year since I started running for recreation in 2008.  So, how much is the quote applicable for average recreational runners like me who believe and swear by their running goals in life. Believe me, we are many in numbers striding across the roads any time of the day, decked up in our favorite running gears, propelling through a voice within, which drives us to achieve the same goal in this activity wherein the space-time dimensions merge uniquely and distinctly for every runner out there on the roads.

Running as an activity is picking up in India and growing at a rapid pace.  There are timed and non-timed running events ranging from 10k to full marathons, being organised almost every week across the country, seeing massive participation among all age groups. Something must be driving this mass of average runners like me,  who in case are reading this article, can understand the reference with regard to the feeling of running and their unspoken yet admired connect to Sunday morning buddies, both known and unknown, plying on Indian roads. I feel it is this above-mentioned quote from Bill Bowerman, made approx half a century ago, that still drives runners across the world, whether recreational, amateur or professional. So, lets dissect the particular quote and seek its relevance in the life of a runner.

Running is an absurd past-time and believe me we runners believe it too. It’s a hobby which we have developed overtime and built upon, which gives us utmost satisfaction and joy. It has got two sides of absurdness – for the ones who run and the ones who don’t. For someone who doesn’t run or doesn’t believe in its magic, it is an illogical, unreasonable activity to be spending your time upon. However, I truly feel this mindset is diminishing in present times. Having said that, now just imagine the absurdness in this activity for those who run. The absurdness to relish getting up really early to cover maximum distance, before the sun shines bright, in their quest to achieve 30-50K run every Sunday morning. They find it absurd to miss drinking session with their buddies on Saturday evenings, but yet miss it knowing a better high is in store for them the following morning. They relish the absurdness in the miles they have covered over weeks, months and year. It is actually absurd that first thing they do after the run is synchronize their GPS watches with the mobiles just to go through the routes explored a few hours back and assess their run. For this clan, the pain in the legs after a really long run appears sweet and the high after covering the intended distance compensates for the missed session with buddies a day earlier – Absurd isn’t it?

Running is exhaustiveand we runners totally believe so. Why does one get exhausted?One gets exhausted only if he gives all his heart and mind to any activity and we runners believe in the same. Its our heart and mind which drives our runs and since they both work in tandem, our activities are profound, all-encompassing and exhaustive. May be  its the exhaustion we actually look forward to which propels us to achieve more. Believe me, 10 minutes after the same run, whether competitive or practice, our engine (heart and mind) is as ready as new, raring to give it another shot right away.

The aspect of finding meaning in the kind of running in the quote is one of the most pertinent part applicable to runners. The best thing about running is that, you just need to start it and thereafter, everything else just falls in place. When I started running, I wasn’t even aware of the kind of running I wanted to do or how far will I be able to go with it. But then, believe me, with each passing day on the roads, I became more clear with regard to the kind of running I was doing and after a certain point of time its the runs which started driving me. Running curve generally has an early tipping point and one needs to propel themselves only till the tipping point. Once you cross the tipping point of the running curve, its rewarding beyond imagination and it is from that point onward that it drives you and more importantly it defines you . Every person on the roads would agree to that and from that point onward we start finding meaning in our runs. Runs may vary viz. small or large, competitive or practice, tempo or recovery, but the meaning and belief derived from each of them, by each runner on the road anywhere in the world, is unparalleled. Running subsequently starts improving our state of mind and enables us to interact with our own selves, thereby harmonizing our heart and mind, ultimately leading to mindfulness.

It is therefore not surprising that, once any runner starts using this activity to achieve the state of mindfulness, it starts adding meaning to their life. If you look at life as a continual journey, and divide it into three phases, which starts as small steps in the beginning, pure and unadulterated, being a dreamer filled with enthusiasm and willingness to achieve success in whatever you do. The second phase corresponding to  reaching your peak, being happy and contended, being motivated and driven, spreading joy to yourself and to others and subsequently settling in the third phase wherein you have gathered adequate experiences, both good and not so good, you feel settled, intend to contribute maximum to society and people around you. Now just imagine how a runner feels during his run. He also goes through these three phases throughout the run, starting from small steps settling into a pace, determined to do well and thereafter cruising forward motivating himself and others around him. These feelings, through the phases, are the same either for the duration of a single run from start to finish or across the entire running journey of a runner with all his runs cumulatively taken together over the years.

As a clan of recreational runners, we believe that we add life to running and in return running adds meaning to our life. Remember, you don’t have to believe to run, you just have to run to believe..!!