24 August 2012

Why I Run (and Pay to Run)

Note: I just found this post in my Drafts folder, and I think it was a couple of years old, certainly written before my two marathon experiences (see #2 below).  Anyway, enjoy!

A thoughtful friend flabbergastedly states the same thing every time I talk about running in an upcoming race: "I don't see why anyone would pay money to run on streets my tax dollars pay for" or something like that. It's a good question, and I've been thinking about why I run and why I actually pay money (half and full marathons are not cheap, by the way) to run in a race when I can run anywhere and anytime I want to for FREE. Here are some of my reasons mixed with some of my followup questions for those who can't understand why:
  1. Signing up for a race (which includes paying money) keeps me accountable: I had better train since I paid for the race.
  2. It's motivating: I want to finish the race strongly, not wheezing and crawling on my hands and knees.
  3. Having a deadline helps me to train on a schedule in a focused way that not having a deadline cannot accomplish. If there's no deadline, no distance goal, no time goal, then what am I running for?
  4. Running for purely health reasons isn't enough for me. I would probably quit running if there were no other reason to run. Entering and paying to race is another reason to stick with it.
  5. Why pay money to go to a gym when you can exercise (including resistance training) for FREE? Because it's a place to meet other lifters. Because you gain access to experts in the field. Because it keeps you accountable. Because it is encouraging to you as a lifter. Because it is helpful to know that other people are interested in the same thing as you. Because it is invigorating to go to a place where others are cheering for you and are interested in you doing your best. Now, substitute "runner" for "lifter."
  6. Anything that's worth anything in life will cost you something. Running is worth a lot: there are many health benefits, it has a calming effect on your mind and body (after the run, that is), it's a place to achieve more than you thought possible. It costs you time, money (shoes and stuff), sweat, occasional pain, energy, and commitment, but it pays you back in joy, sense of accomplishment, visible results (more muscular legs and a thinner waist for starters), measurable results, and a new component to your identity, that of "runner."
  7. When else do police block off streets just for you?
  8. Because of the pre-race expo, where you can find all things running and meet and speak with experts in shoes, apparel, nutrition, injury prevention and treatment, etc. You don't meet these people on the street.
  9. Because always training and never showcasing is boring.
  10. How can you criticize it if you've never done it?
I mean these points in all gentleness and respect to my friend and anyone else who don't see running like runners do. Like many things in life, to experience it is much better than to simply witness it. Pro football is much more exciting at the stadium than on TV (this is especially true for baseball). Either way, the same thing happens; it's the experiencing of it in person that makes the difference. When you walk into the stadium, you think Wow, this place is incredible. I can feel the energy. It's like that at a race: you feel an energy, a sense of awe at the magnitude of the event, and a little bit of fear about the race itself that you just don't get running sidewalks by yourself.

For me personally (as you can see from the reasons above) it boils down to the intangibles. Yes, the health benefits are the same whether you run by yourself at the park or run in a race, but the emotional and experiential benefits cannot even be touched by always running by yourself in training mode.

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