This is something I wonder every day.
Frank is a made up name, but he is a real person. I see him every single time I run down on the Marina Green in SF. He wears these mysteriously branded shoes that a military of moths got after. He’s probably owned them for oh…say….30 years? Same cream colored cutoff - as in sleeves and bottom half of the entire shirt have been cut off entirely, and some old school Umbros. My favorite Frank accessory is his knee brace that doesn’t fit at all, it’s so loose it actually hovers down around his upper calf…but he diligently wears it. Just like he diligently runs every day (I’m assuming). And you know what, it looks painful. His running looks dreadfully painful….it’s wobbly, slow, distressed and strained. And he has this freakin’ studly smile on his face that is framed by this thick salt and pepper mustache. When we pass each other, I always smile back and I always start running faster. But the strain of his stride makes me wonder what drives him….
I wonder what every single runner thinks about, even if I know them really well. Like what is really going on up in all these sweaty, complicated noggins?? Why do we show up when no one else knows or cares if we show up? What do we think about during our runs? Why do we care? Do we actually care? I don’t wonder so I can judge (ah okay, sometimes I judge), I wonder because it’s much more interesting than any mileage per week stat, or average pace, or Strava course record (I do love Strava, let's be clear about that). That’s just the output. What’s the input?
For me….it’s curiosity. Pushing myself up to, and hopefully beyond, what I thought were my barriers is so damn interesting. I’m curious where and how and when I’ll reach that next barrier. I love being surprised by it (which is usually the case). One of my most memorable barrier demolishments (how is that not a word?) came a few years ago. I had just started dating Chris (who, as it turns out is now my fiancé and other obsession) and he was participating as the Olympic Club runner on a relay team for a short triathlon, just for fun. (More on Chris later, he’s um…..intense). Unfortunately for the women’s team, their runner had to pull out last minute with an injury. I say “unfortunately” because she is incredibly fast and ran in the Olympic Trials, nbd. So as I was inhaling a large breakfast sandwich, Chris asked if I would step in and run. I promptly said “sure”. I was not in the best shape at the time, but I did the 10k run and went as hard as I possibly could. I threw up at the finish line. I threw up a lot, it was a big sandwich. I was SO embarrassed….”really Caroline, you can’t even handle a 10k?” And Chris walked up to me after the race with the biggest, I mean ear-to-ear, smile on his face announcing how proud he felt. I thought he was kidding, but he was dead serious. He was so pumped that I wasn’t scared to push myself so hard that I threw up (clearly we were still learning a lot about each other at this point) and I was so pumped that he was pumped, it was really nerdy.
I’ve had many, many moments like this one and they are precisely what propel me to keep pushing. If I had not pushed so hard that day, I would have left a lot of “what ifs” floating around in my head. Instead, I think it’s safe to say I left all of those in chunks in the bushes at the finish line in Santa Cruz.
So why do you challenge yourself? What’s the real reason? Why do you get after it every day? I have yet to ask Frank why he does - I will, some day. But for now I’ve decided he definitely is not doing it for recognition, admiration, or bragging rights. I’ve decided he just can’t help himself. He’s out there and he doesn’t give a shit about anyone else. That is impressive. I can’t say I’m there quite yet, but one day I will be. He reminds me of the guy who struggles through 4 days of yoga every week…the one who is in the back and barely doing the poses because it’s too hard. He is impressive. He reminds me of my two best friends who beat the crap out of their bodies playing college rugby and soccer - yet after so many awful injuries, they’re still getting after it and doing trail races. I’m much less impressed by the skinny girl in the front of every yoga class who knows she looks good in spandex, never struggles with poses, smokes cigarettes and is there so she can tweet about it. I’m much less impressed by the trail runners who let the whole social media world know exactly how many kilometers they got in every single minute of every day so you can sit at your desk and feel bad about yourself. I’m not interested in what drives them, they’re all about output.
So what's your input? Mine is curiosity.... and that never really dies so this should be a long, scrappy journey.
Until next time….“go fast. take chances”