I have known runners (and I’m mostly going to only get into women runners today), who have been extremely down to earth and humble. And then I have known runners, from high school to working at a running shoe store in the Bay Area, from grade school track stars to professional marathoners and ultra runners, who just have this incredibly annoying blend of humility and arrogance. An old ex would call it “fake humility”. It’s where they write articles and give speeches about teamwork and positivity and the inclusive nature of pushing the limits, exploring trails and competition, and then they dismiss actual attempts “average” runners make to reach out, to share a story, or make a connection. I get it. One woman I knew in California was an Olympian and a badass. Why respond when I reach out to compliment her Western States achievement? I’m not on her level.
I just read this awesome book by Deena Kastor, “Let Your Mind Run”. What I didn’t like about it: it’s co-written and it feels a little too careful for that reason. Like in order to appeal to a wider audience she needed to be tamed down. I love the raw voice of the runner, and wanted that uninhibited by over-editing. However that aside, the book is honest, quizzical, introspective and sharp. Deena (who’s actually interviewed in the recent May issue of Women’s Running magazine), has a gentleness, down-to-earth charm, a true humility and an authenticity that is rare in the competitive sports world. She’s broken records in everything from 5k to marathons, and isn’t afraid to analyze her own mental blocks, negative patterning, and lifelong evolution from self-conscious novice to mom-badass-tough-elite-athlete with a penchant for baking.
I’d love to say I’d love to run with her but she’s way too fast for me. I would love to see more women read her book though, and learn that kindness is a strength and running- even in its solitude- inclusive. That’s why I always loved cross country more than track. It leans toward people like Deena. And she reminds us that running is about the journey, not the outcome. It’s about finding focus and staying present, and through that it’s a joyful experience, as is connecting with others of all backgrounds, shapes, running distances, speeds, experiences and levels.
Of course we see the gamut of inauthentic behavior- self-importance to aggression to fake humility to aloofness- in everything every day. We see it in overworked baristas, apathetic teachers, snobby coworkers- I mean everywhere in a variety of people and jobs and places, Oval offices. What we know is it doesn’t matter who you are, and what you know or can do or can’t do. You DO have a choice to be open, present, grateful and kind. The best athletes in the world, ultimately, will respond when someone they know reaches out and compliment them on their performance. They will connect with kids even off camera and out of the limelight. And they’ll listen to everyone- elite or not- to keep growing. That’s how we learn, develop and live. That’s how we let our minds run.
Now I’m reading another running book- “Running Man” by Charlie Engle. He wrote this all himself and it’s gritty as hell. He lays it all out on the line: addictions to drugs and alcohol, relapses, and ultra-running as his higher power and the passion that taught him how to live and how to believe in himself enough to break the addictions. Deena is like a cupcake if Charlie is a, I don’t know, bottle of moonshine, but both runners have one thing in common: a contagious thirst for life. They want to experience life in its purest, deepest, truest form. That’s what makes running so appealing, as it brings people into the moment- kind of like transcendental meditation- without relying external substances that inevitably disassociate the mind from the body. Running has the ability to transport you from the humdrum of existence while keeping the mind very much still connected to the body. I love this about running. This is what makes it entirely inclusive among real runners and by real I mean people who get past the gu gels and special tights and bras and compression socks, and just really run, not for splits and awards, but for the feeling of being out there, doing it. The feeling of being free.
Running reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit. The stuffed rabbit became so worn out by the hugs and kisses and all the love of a little boy that it was transformed into a real rabbit. The moral was that love made him real. And running, in its purest form, is love. It wears you down but it makes you real. It hardens you, but it makes you soft, if you allow it. Because it shows you how to see, how to listen, and how to go beyond your own nose. It’s very solitude incites inclusivity when the runner is paying attention. It’s not about the medal or the PR, at least not entirely. It IS about some concept of ultimate reality. It IS saying, “hey old friend, thanks for thinking of me….how have you been?… you are ALSO a badass old friend… cheers”.
Image: running with my bestie on a rocky trail in the Carson National Forest, Talpa, New Mexico.