Why So Serious?

Shiv is an army officer, an avid runner (80-100km per week please!) and loves his beer.

I was commanded, some time ago, in no uncertain terms, to write something for a mysterious tribe of people called ‘serious runners’.

I suspect I may have been mistaken for one.

Now, I guess I could have attempted to rectify this grave misunderstanding, had I not instantly gotten busy mistaking myself for one…

Nevertheless, for the first ten minutes of thinking about what to write, I just couldn’t get this guy out of my head…picture

Then, I got, well… serious, and homed in on what I think makes a serious runner.

Competitiveness.

Here come the brickbats.

But before you cast the first stone, consider this…

I didn’t say speed. I didn’t say endurance. I made no mention of anything that can be measured by chip, app or watch.

Competitiveness is a much maligned word, because it, at the very least, conjures up hazy associations with aggressive and self-centered behavior, and at worst, is considered synonymous with it. Why?

Because we assume that competition divides us into victors and vanquished. For someone to win, we assume, someone else has to lose. True enough, some of grandest human pursuits seem to reinforce this idea on massive scales- war, commerce, and sadly, even sport.

I feel this is unfortunate. In distance running, we know the truth. Everyone wins.

Be that as it may, social beings like us actively deny being competitive, because, I dunno, we don’t want people to hate us, maybe?

Think about it, though. Competitiveness is an evolutionary imperative. It is the reason why we aren’t still single-celled organisms living in the primordial soup. As such, it isn’t a choice. It is an attribute hardcoded into our DNA. We may deny it all we want, but we’re competitive just by virtue of being alive.

When we run, we seek the rewarding flood of adrenaline in our brains and blood. The primal function of this chemical is to make us faster and stronger in the face of a threat, by increasing the efficiency of our heart, muscles and senses.

Faster.

Stronger.

Does the Olympic motto spring to mind?

Our bodies literally produce ‘competitiveness’ as a hormone!

As runners, we compete against pain, against fatigue. We fight hills and heat. We battle weather and weakness, weight and waistlines, lethargy and llamas (no, we don’t actually battle llamas, but I’m claiming a bit of a poetic license here).

We run against the clock. We take pride in our race timings, but deny it because, believe it or not, Pride is the first of the cardinal sins. I don’t subscribe to it being either first, or cardinal, or even a sin, for that matter. Results are the direct symptoms of effort. If that’s not a justifiable reason for pride, I don’t know what is.

We run against Failure. I know this fellow well, because I have met him repeatedly, and I expect to keep meeting him every so often in the foreseeable future. We don’t set, announce or pursue goals because we may fail. We dilute our goals for the same reason. I’ve personally been guilty of this too often to count. In retrospect, as a ‘serious’ runner, I’ve always progressed from failure to failure. Samuel Beckett seems to have nailed it, when he wrote-

Try Again

Fail Again

Fail Better

We may claim that we run ‘oh, just for fun’, but at the very least, we compete against ourselves.

And I don’t for a second believe that recreation and competitiveness are mutually exclusive. I believe they’re complementary. It’s really not possible to better yourself at something you don’t enjoy. And conversely, if you aren’t trying to better yourself, you will never know how much fun you’re missing out on.

Well, lookie that! I think I may have ended up writing something for serious runners after all! Or maybe not…

Postscript:-

My own rather incomprehensible blog (which nobody reads) is at… (clickbait alert!) > www.threeten242.blogspot.com . I am sincerely grateful to Anupriya for allowing me to ride her coattails here.