I find that I use my recovery time after a marathon to reflect on my past training and look ahead to what I’m planning for the rest of the year.
As athletes it’s easy to find ourselves bouncing from one training workout to the next, from race to race, and in the flurry of our complex and overflowing schedules confuse activity with accomplishment. For a marathon training plan we focus on the minutia of every run. The days we have tempos, hill repeats, long runs and rest days are all scheduled with laser like precision least we over-train and risk injury or under-train and miss our race day goal. There are reasons for every activity (or lack there of) in the plan. Every run in the plan has a purpose.
That’s as far as most of us take it though. We see a race we want to run, we put a training plan in place, we execute the plan, and then run the race. It’s a very common and familiar theme we all recognize. Now ask yourself “why run the race?” and the question that naturally follows is “why run at all for that matter?” When you ask most runners those questions you get the basic stock answers and they tend to be very general, it’s rare to get a focused answer. “For a sense of accomplishment” or “I want to be in better shape” are very common responses. Some are raising money for charity, which is noble, but there are other ways to raise money. What are you trying to accomplish? If your serious about it, what’s the purpose of your running?
Whether it’s health, achievement, or charity, I don’t think many of us really give it enough thought. Email, voice-mail, job pressures and daily errands occupy our thinking to such a degree we never take a step back and evaluate the big picture. We never take the time for long-term thinking, things just seem to play out as a result of our short-term decisions. Do you see the problem here? If short-term thinking drives long-term decisions where is your running going to be three years from now? Are you satisfied just being on the hamster wheel of activity?
It’s at this point in my post I need to ask you to stow your tray tables and put your seats in their full upright position because it’s going to get a little bumpy. To fully answer what purpose your running has you need to take one more step back. You need to look at what your life’s purpose is and that brings up a bunch of issues most of us would rather not confront. I don’t have the answers for you but what I want to accomplish here is to get you asking the right questions. So here we go.
“There’s no escaping reason, no denying purpose, because as we both know, without purpose we would not exist.
It is purpose that created us,
purpose that connects us,
purpose that pulls us,
that guides us,
that drives us,
it is purpose that defines,
purpose that binds us…”
Agent Smith: The Matrix Reloaded
Why Purpose Matters
For a fictional, sentient computer program, Agent Smith pretty much nailed it. Take a moment now and look away from your monitor and note some of the objects in your environment. I’m sitting at my desk in my office and the objects in my field of view are magazines, papers and gadgets all spread out in different piles in front of me along with a water bottle within arm’s reach. Do you know what they all have in common? Every single one of them has a purpose and there is no reason to think we are any different.
It may seem nonsensical to start comparing a person with an inanimate object but follow me on this for a minute. Imagine the water bottle on my desk was searching for personal fulfillment and decided “You know what, I want to be a chair! A chair is a great job with good benefits. People would look forward to sitting in me and relaxing. They might also want to use me to do some productive office work. Holding water by comparison seems so work-a-day and uninspiring. That settles it, I’m a chair.” The water bottle then spends the next 20 years in misery because it wasn’t created to be a chair. It’s uncomfortable to sit on and it can’t support much weight so it never gets used. It then can’t understand why it’s so unhappy when the answer is so simple. It’s not fulfilling its purpose.
Asking the Right Questions
First question: How do you determine purpose? It begins with brutal honesty. In our postmodern society we’ve become such experts at rationalization it’s become increasingly difficult to take an objective look at who we are and where we are going. If you have a spouse, partner or really close friend sit down with them and ask them if they can give you some honest feedback on your choices and life decisions. You might find that they’ll confirm for you some things you’ve been thinking about but were afraid to admit to yourself. Their insight might save you a few years of misery. For years during my flying career my wife would tell me I should work in the computer field and I would insist I would never get hired because I didn’t have the right work experience. Yet here I sit fifteen years later having spent the last eleven as a Database Engineer. Your spouse has incredible insight into how you tick, listen to them.
The next question I would ask is ‘What makes me feel comfortable, secure and safe?” Find out what that is and then run as fast as you can away from it. I’ve never heard or experienced a situation where purpose wasn’t found after overcoming conflict and emotional turmoil. As runners we don’t shy away from hard work and struggle to get where we want to go, how you approach your life shouldn’t be any different.
One last question for you: Am I living someone else’s life? We spent so much time trying to fit-in, conform and copy the success of others we lose ourselves in the process. Stop worrying about what your friends, family and coworkers think and follow your intuition. Listen to that voice telling you to act. The more you listen, the louder it gets. Trust me.
Running = Life
Take the same approach to finding your life’s purpose and apply it to your running. If we are honest with ourselves we all have to admit that there is something about our running that resonates on a level we don’t fully understand. It may just be a hobby for you now, or it might be something more. You won’t know until you start asking the right questions.