For many years I felt like I could be a runner and it was just a matter of riddling the key code that would release the runner inside me. I talked to other runners and asked them how they started and I remember two pieces of advice, both from guys named Michael:
Michael #1 said: Run every day and don’t stop to walk. Run until you’re done running and then go home. The next day, run farther.
Michael #2 said: You’re getting the most out of the run when it’s uncomfortable. You have to push through that discomfort if you want to be a runner.
It was hard to follow Michael #2’s advice because running hurt the minute I started and didn’t let up until I finished. I ran on and off for a couple of years but never managed to like it until I started running with my sister Bethany in Bellingham. Running with another person made all the difference for me. I could push myself through the discomfort of the first mile or two if someone right next to me was doing it too. After running every day for a summer in Bellingham, I discovered the key codes for my inner runner:
Consistency and persistence.
It made a big difference to run every day because I didn’t have to spend as much time at the beginning of the run remembering what I was doing. Plus, I gained mental endurance quickly. Once I’d run a mile, I knew I could do it. So I did it again. Then I ran two. Then I ran more. If I stopped for a couple days and starting up again was hard, I knew that I’d done it before so I could probably do it again. I stopped making a drama about running. I just went and did it and I learned to like it. However, I never loved it, which made Born to Run a fascinating read for me.
Born to Run is about why we run, how to run, whether the human body is built for running and what happens when you get a bunch of runners together for “a half assed pickup race in a sniper controlled corner of the Mexican outback.” It’s an adventure story mixed with a treatise on evolution, physiology, history and attitude but mainly and mostly it’s about ordinary people with a lot of prohibitive physical problems who love to push themselves to the brink of their abilities and come out victorious.
McDougall’s concludes that joy and love are integral parts of succeeding at any difficult task. He writes about how ultrarunners run for the love of the action and the motion. They run because it’s fun. It’s not a drudgery and they find joy in it even when it’s painful. McDougall argues that the most successful ultrarunners are in love with the sport but they’re also compassionate empathetic human beings who give back to the world around them. He shows how joy in one activity spills over into a whole life and how joy can be the defining factor that brings success.
I have quite a bit to chew over after reading this book; and aside from making me want to run, I’m reforming my thinking habits about other things in my life. I particularly enjoy the way McDougall’s conclusions about running strategy and intent can be transferred over to any daunting task or sticky corner of one’s life:
1. “Strive to make it easy, light, smooth and fast.” This is the very definition of doing something well and loving it. Sometimes striving for these goals means uprooting entrenched habits and forming new ones. That can be hard and painful. But every “work” should be easy, light and smooth so it will go fast.
2. “There are two goddesses in your heart, the Goddess of Wisdom and the Goddess of Wealth…You have to give your heart to the Goddess of Wisdom… and the Goddess of Wealth will become jealous and follow you.” Do it for the love of the game, not the ultimate potential results.
Born to Run isn’t just for runners. It’s for anyone who’s ever tried (and even failed) to do something really difficult and has been changed by the process. If you’ve ever found joy in pushing yourself to the limits of your capabilities, you should read Born to Run.