There’s no shortage of reasons to run. It’s fantastic exercise. It gives you a great excuse to get outdoors. It helps you support the economy by purchasing high-priced running accoutrements, like sneakers, socks, gels, water bottles, IPod holders, nipple balm, etc.
One of the main reasons I run is because, at this point, running is one of the few things I do where my achievements and failures are truly my own. In every other aspect of my life (marriage, parenting, work, team sports) I’m part of a group that must produce results together as a unit. I must rely on others in order to experience success. And when things do go well, I have to acknowledge the contributions of these people.
For instance, if my son grows up to be an all-pro athlete, who also goes on to cure Cancer after he retires, I can be proud, but I wouldn’t be the sole reason for his athletic and intellectual brilliance. I’d have to share the credit with his mom, his stepmom, his grandparents, his teachers… by the time we get through all the people who’ve had a positive impact on his life, I’m basically just the guy who gave him his last name.
On the other hand, when it comes to running there’s only one person who has a significant influence on my success: me.
I’m the one getting up early. I’m the one putting in the miles week after week. And on race day I’m the one keeping my forward momentum going, mostly by reminding myself of all the donuts and booze I’ll allow myself to have after the race.
That’s all me.
I realize there are people who enable my running triumphs. My wife, of course, is the person who got me into running and continues to support me in every way possible. And if people didn’t organize races, I’d have no place to show off my 8:40 minute-a-mile pace. Of course, there are also the underpaid Chinese laborers who stitch together my super comfortable $125 running shoes. Those people are really important.
But ultimately how fast I’m able to run a half marathon depends completely on my own abilities.
With running, I’m also the master of my universe. If I want to play basketball I need to arrange a game and find a court and invite other people to play. If I want to golf I have to procure a tee time and wear particular clothes and kiss 4 to 5 hours of my day goodbye. That’s a lot of superfluous factors, most of which are out of my control.
However, I can run whenever I want, for as long as I want, wherever I want. I can run in the morning or in the afternoon or at night. I can run ten miles or just a few blocks. I can run around a track or in the woods or through my neighborhood. I can run hard or I can mail it in. It’s my call. All I need is a pair of sneakers and two moderately functional legs.
Perhaps most importantly, I don’t even have to be any good at running. I can completely suck and it really doesn’t matter. No one cares. There are no winners and no losers. All anyone ever asks is: “How was your run?” To which I can always respond, “Good.” End of conversation.
Succeeding or failing on my own, running on my schedule, being able to crap out if I feel like it… I find all of this self-sufficiency to be tremendously satisfying. That’s why “autonomy” is in the top ten reasons I run. It’s right behind “want to minimize weight gain caused by drinking beer” and in front of “want the ability to outpace the undead when the Zombiepocalypse goes down.”
I’m sure there are millions of other runners who share this sentiment; men and women who crank out miles week after week, in part, because they need something that’s theirs and theirs alone. And presumably a high percentage of these people also want to be faster than zombies.
I love my running autonomy and will proudly celebrate it tonight… by logging 3.78 miles… at 2am… while wearing a bonnet and a pink utilikilt… because no one’s the boss of me.
At least when it comes to running.