On Saturday morning, I got up at 5 am to run 10 miles. I finished in 1:37, without stopping once. I ran a negative split, which means that I ran the last five miles faster than the first five. And the fastest mile I ran was the very last one.
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Him: So you’re a pretty serious runner?
Me: Oh, no, not serious … I just run a lot.
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I spent most of Saturday’s run thinking about that conversation, and about why I don’t think of myself as a “serious” runner. There are a lot of reasons. Serious runners are faster than I am; they run further than I do. They are thinner than I am, and stronger. They look better in compression shorts.
All of that is ridiculous, I know. I had a terrible run at the Dallas Marathon and still finished in the top third in my age group, and ahead of over half of the men who ran the half marathon that day. If I didn’t take running seriously, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I train carefully for my races, and I show up for every run intending to do my best, whether it’s a half marathon or an easy four miles.
So why don’t I think of myself as a “serious” runner?
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I frequently tend to not take myself seriously, to assume that there is someone (or a lot of someones) who are better than I am at whatever it is I am doing, and thus I shouldn’t really knock myself out because this is the best I’m ever going to do. That’s not to say that I am half assing my way through life — I’m not; I work hard at what I do — but my perceptions are often skewed. I just assume that there is always someone out there who is a better writer or editor or stylist. My runner friends clock 8 minute miles and finish full marathons. I take for granted that I will not beat them, which must mean that I’m not as serious as they are.
This doesn’t mean that I see myself as a failure; I don’t. I think instead it says more about the things I really love — writing, running — and how ephemeral they are in the bigger picture. I’m not curing cancer, or doing anything equally serious, after all. I’m just running. But if running is important to me — and is is — then it’s something worth being serious about.
So why am I so hesitant to say yes, I am a serious runner?
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What does it mean to be “serious” about anything? When my kids are misbehaving, I will say “I’m serious — stop it.” What I mean in that moment is that I am one more infraction away from levying consequences; I am no longer joking around or putting up with this behavior. How does that translate to running — or anything else in life?
I think too often we equate serious with successful, and by that definition, no, I am not really a serious runner. I don’t win the races I enter; I don’t PR in every event. Hell, I don’t even win my age group, and most of the time, I finish behind my runner friends. But winning isn’t necessarily the right measure of seriousness. Charlie is serious about basketball, but his teams don’t always win — and he doesn’t always play well. What he does do is come home from practice or a game and go out in the driveway and do layup drills and dribbling drills over and over and over, in order to get better. And in order to be doing something he loves.
Maybe that’s the definition of serious.
I love running; I feel like every run is a chance to get better. And so I stick to my training schedule and I push myself to run farther and faster, and while I don’t think I take myself too seriously (I will not subject you to a blow-by-blow account of every. single. race.) I am committed to becoming a better runner. Maybe in the end that’s all it takes to be serious.
What are you serious about? And what does it mean to you to be serious?