A friend and I had an argument recently. I had set an early curfew for myself to be rested for my run the next morning, but when I started to leave my friend said, “You’re not a professional, you know. You don’t need to be this strict about everything. It’s not like you’re gunning for a Top Ten finish.” I left cold and furious. I’ve been serious about running for years, and I know what I’m doing. I know what my body needs, and I know how to train safely and smartly.
But my friend wasn’t wrong. I’m not a professional. Not even close. It’s not like I’ll qualify for the Olympics. I’ll never even qualify for Boston. Training is the primary deciding factor for what I eat, when I sleep, and what I wear, and I’m still barely cracking 12-minute miles. So what’s the point? Why even bother if I don’t stand a chance of winning?
Because that’s not what motivates me. I don’t run because I’m good at it; I run because I need it. I need the discipline. I need the structure. I need a reason to go to bed at a reasonable hour and eat healthful foods and drink more water than beer. I need clarity when I’m confused and catharsis when I’m angry. I’m better at training than I am at racing, and I’m better at living when I’m training.
My friend has since apologized for the world’s worst way of saying, “I’m having a nice time together. Please stay longer,” but there’s still a lot of truth in the original wording. As much as running means to me, I still need to find a balance in order to live my life. I’m drawn to running because it helps me tip the scales toward healthier choices, but it’s possible to tip too far toward obsession.
In just over a month, I’ll run my fourth marathon in Seattle. I’m not going to win. I’ve accepted my fate. I’ll line up with 20,000 other athletes, and 19,990 of us won’t be Top Ten finishers. The race will go as well as it can possibly go based on my training, the weather, and the will of the gods that day. It will be the capstone to this phase of an ongoing process, and I’ll have as much fun as an amateur can possibly have.