I can’t count the number of times I have had conversations with runners who never intended to be runners yet found themselves religiously out pounding the pavement. All of them have two things in common; none of them would think twice about stopping and all of them have stories about injuries, sore muscles and suffering through unusually cold morning runs. And they are quick to tell you about them if you are unfortunate enough to suggest you are the slightest bit interested.
Some of the best stories are how they got started. Lost bets after imbibing too much in the local bar, a challenge to one’s manhood or womanhood by a lifelong competitive “friend” or sibling, an attempt to stave off the aging process (I can verify this one doesn’t work), or just simply the goal of losing weight. Some are the result of life changing events; an illness, a death in the family, a divorce or a near death experience.
I find the people in this latter group tend to be the ones that stick to it and ultimately join the ranks of us regular street stompers. Regardless of how they started, the process tends to be similar; a small goal starts to blossom into larger goals and before they know it they are hooked. It might start with making a mile without stopping and when they cross that hurdle, two miles doesn’t look so daunting. Before they realize it they are asking other runners questions about shoes and injuries, which leads to an invitation to try a 5K (3.1miles). I’ve had people tell me they could never make it through a 5K and months later they are doing a 10K and talking about doing a half marathon (13.1 miles). Many of the first time marathoners I’ve met never though they would run a half marathon but after busting through that barrier it only made sense to go for “the big one”.
To non-runners this “chasing the next goal” makes no sense at all and thus the frequent suggestion that these runners need intervention. Suggesting to these runners that they should stop is likely to get you an eye roll or an incredulous “you can’t possibly mean that” look. Taking away their shoes, running clothes or watch are likely to get you physical harm (and justifiably so I might add). What really drives the unenlightened non-participators crazy is when runners start complaining about painful injuries but refuse to stop running (this makes my wife go apoplectic…bug-eyed, drooling, strange noises coming out of her mouth). The truth is, if we stopped running every time we had a little ache or pain we would never be running. When it comes to injuries, there are three types of runners: those that are injured, those that are getting over an injury and those that will shortly be injured. There is a fourth category, those that have stopped running or are dead but we don’t count them.
Given all this, it is understandable that anyone who is not a runner would think that running looks an awful lot like an addiction. The sense of loss when a run is missed, the passion for escalating activity to further and faster, chasing the runners high, and the willingness to keep doing it even when it appears detrimental to your health might be reasons why it has been suggested to me that maybe I need outside help.
I may be in denial but I believe the reason there is no Runners Anonymous is because no one would come. Those that are running don’t see a need for it and those that are not, aren’t candidates. Any gathering of runners would simply be an excuse to go for another run (which is of course why we have road races).
Maybe what we really need is group therapy sessions for the spouses, family and significant others of runners. They can share stories on how to cope with the stinky running shoes and clothes, being alone in mornings during long runs, feeling left out at running events, and cheering 101 for those occasional road races they attend. They could learn valuable skills, like muscle massage, first aid for knee injuries, and how to tape an Achilles.
For me, I found a better answer. I just cooped my children into running at an early age. We are now planning our next family vacation…around a running event.
Four weeks to go till Boston. This one promises to be really interesting. More on that next time.