I SHOULD be out there – running.
The thought lingered in my head for a few seconds, after my daughter observantly pointed out two runners dashing along the concrete pavement adjacent the harbor. In the cool comfort of the cozy corner in the Japanese restaurant overlooking a beautiful midday in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, I could do nothing more but sip my bowl of steaming miso soup, disabuse my mind of any further notions of running, and condition myself in preparation for the tumultuous agenda for the remainder of the day: shopping, shopping, and more shopping.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against spending an entire afternoon walking from one sprawling mall to the next, trolling through endless garment and shoe racks, visiting fitting rooms enough times to be on first name basis with the clerk on duty, until finally watching a little piece of plastic make my money disappear faster than David Blaine and Criss Angel ever could together. In addition, I consider myself more tolerant than the average middle-age male when it comes to accompanying my significant other (her name is Gina, last time I checked) while she checks on the best grocery deals, searches for the right brassiere size and fit, or simply just wants to window shop. Gina claims she’s a reformed serial shopper, and I believe her. Here’s proof: I spent more than she did on this trip — and that’s the first time it’s happened, ever.
But this isn’t about shopping. It’s about guilt. Runner’s Guilt, to be precise.
The help line infomercial pops up instantly, with predictable vignettes that open with: “I should be out there sweating it out, instead of talking to this customer service rep about getting that new plasma TV.” “This is a great bistro and the food is impeccable. But why do I feel I’m missing out on my long run?” “Maybe I should try to get in a few clicks before that big investors meeting.” Enter the voice over: Do you find yourself moping over lost mileage due to that doctor’s appointment? Or maybe you’re harboring dissent towards your boss for keeping you from that one-hour evening run. If you’re one of these individuals who feels pangs of guilt and shame for sitting in your car and watching runners go by when you could be part of that merry band of pavement pounders, you’re one of the growing number of people suffering from (cue ominous soundtrack) Runner’s Guilt. It doesn’t have to be that way. Help is just a phone call a way. Hurry and call now! Our operators are standing by to listen to and guide you through our patented and proven 3-step withdrawal and renewal solution. You’ll find that there’s a lot more to life than just running yourself ragged. Get with the program! You’ll feel better and be rid of your runner’s guilt faster than you can run a half-marathon PR! Call us today at 1-800-786 3733. That’s 1-800-RUNFREE. Because you shouldn’t be running from what’s important to you.
I really wish it were that simple.
After trying out running in my mid-thirties and later taking it a bit more seriously a few years ago with my first marathon in 2008, running has assumed a more profound meaning in my life providing solace, therapy, relaxation, meditation, and introspection — and with these very qualities occurring either in sequence, simultaneously, or in very rare cases, isolation. The benefits that are afforded by running to anyone who cares to ever take it up can be very indulgent, which explains the guilt that I personally experience when I am unable to run for even a few minutes when I want to. As I see it, the guilt stems from deprivation of the qualities/facets that can only be realized or achieved by putting one foot in front of the other in rhythmic cadence.
“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.” This is a favorite quote taken from author and distance runner Haruki Murakami’s best-selling book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It speaks of the unique nature of running within the ‘cozy, homemade void’ of the individual. Running becomes a personal retreat into another world, comprehended only by the individual who inhabits it. This is the ‘me time’ a person needs that enables him/her to collect himself/herself amidst a chaotic day, a difficult situation, or just to get away from it all. In the minutes or hours spent on this dreadfully simple activity of basic human propulsion, the results can range from decompressing built-up tension and stress to unbridling creativity and invention.
There is a certain pureness and freedom I’ve come to associate with the act of propelling myself forward along distances near and far, where the surprises of a trail or the predictability of the road ahead trigger a host of emotions, insights, and perspective. There are days when I’m undecided on my mileage and my route, deciding to go by feel. Those are the more interesting journeys I’ve taken. Running evokes positive thoughts and provides me the time to think about matters crucial and trivial. It provokes within me ideas that I would otherwise not have conjured, had I not stepped out into the day (or night) and taken my mobile meditation exercise.
Is running addictive/addicting? Without even having to talk about the physical benefits it brings, I throw down a resounding yes. But the positives I’ve already mentioned are enough to explain why the guilt weighs heavy on days when I find myself sitting through a DVD marathon, spending too much time pounding my keyboard and writing about running, or engaging in some form of sedentary activity that keeps me in an otherwise vegetative state. To paraphrase a song title from way back when: These feet were meant for running!
You don’t even have to run fast — just get out there. That’s just me nudging myself playfully as I’m dressing for my next run. I don’t think I’ll ever rid myself of running guilt, since my running habit has so penetrated my core, there are times when it’s the only thing that can possibly occupy that part of my day. Will I ever stop running? Not while I have the legs to do it.
I run, therefore I am.
“I'll be happy if running and I can grow old together.”