Why I Run: Bill’s Story

Bill is a Dailymile.com friend of mine who writes the most lovely descriptions of his runs, from moonlit mornings to dusky sun settings, Bill captures so much in a few words of detail about each mile he logs. He shares today why he runs. Meet my friend, Bill.

I’ve been running for 50 years, with time off for bad behavior here and there. I can still recall the first time I ran a mile for time – I ran a 5:42 and just collapsed on the ground at the finish. I can clearly recall feeling both sick and terrific at the same time. I can recall that moment as clearly as if it had just occurred. Somehow, that first timed mile hooked me into doing what I still do
today. But that’s not why I run, it’s not why I get up most every morning, half asleep, accomplish the difficult task of putting on running shoes (after the almost as difficult task of finding the right matching pair). Why do I do this? I do it because it makes me think.

Running makes me think. Before I head out the door and take that first step, the day ahead usually seems insurmountable, unsolvable and unattainable. Most of the run which follows that first step is spent thinking about the mountain I have to climb shortly. But as the yards turn into miles, I think about, concentrate on, each problem that lies ahead, and the mountain begins to erode, until at the end of my run it’s only a speed bump. By the end of my run, the things that I saw as troubles earlier I now can’t even label as problems. They are insignificant.

Running makes me think about myself. Search “Imperfect Man” on Wikipedia and my picture will be there. Like Hamlet’s father, all my imperfections ride on my shoulders at the start of my run, and (unlike Hamlet’s father) gradually they all fall away and by the time I am done, I feel pretty good about myself. I’m out here running. I’ve done something to start the day. I’m not such a worthless excuse for a human after all.

Running makes me think. I usually start my morning run under a dark sky, and since I live in a rural area, on a clear morning that dark sky is full of stars. I’ve come to know the constellations as the earth journeys around the sun during the year. And I always think the same thing while running under the stars: damn, this is one big beautiful complex universe I live in, and I am one insignificant being within it. That thought never gets stale and somehow, I find comfort in it.

Running makes me think about being the combination of a mental and a physical being, and how running helps join those two parts of me. Most of my runs are tough, the races always are tough. The physical part of me cries out for relief, the mental part keeps the physical part moving. I’ve run over a thousand road and trail races and in most of them I have asked myself at least once “Why am I doing this? If I just stop now, the pain would go away.” But I think about how quitting a run would make it easier for me to quit something else in life, and I sincerely believe that– running makes me think about finishing whatever I am doing, and finishing it with effort. If I can finish this 10K I can finish whatever else awaits me.

Running makes me think about running – the runs I’ve done and the runs I’m going to do. Sometimes, I mark the passage of time according to when a favorite race is coming up. Although the same route run from day to day bores me quickly, I enjoy running the same races from year to year. The mile markers in familiar races are old friends – hey, mile 3 – I passed you 20 seconds faster last year, I better pick up my pace before I see your cousin mile 4.

Sometimes I think about when that last run will come. Will it be an injury, or will I get up one morning, look at my running shoes and say to them “you know, I woke up this
morning and realized that I just don’t love you anymore”? I had some surgery a few years back and wasn’t sure how soon or even if I would get back to running. When I did run again, I thought about how much I appreciated just being able to do it.

Whenever that last run comes, I hope it’s not for a long time, because I think I still enjoy this as much as I did 50 years ago.