Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why Do You Run?

Surely you have been asked this question. Probably countless times. But did you really have an answer? Here is an excerpt from a blog post I read this morning that gives as good of an answer to that question as I've ever heard articulated. It is from a speech by Jeff Johnson and the full post and speech can be read here (worth the time).

Here's the question: Why do you run?

You've probably been asked that question before. It's not an easy question to answer, is it? If someone has to ask, they'll probably never understand.

A man once came to Mozart and said: Teach me to write a symphony.

Mozart answered: I can't teach you.

The man said: Why not? You were writing symphonies when you were 4 years old.

To which Mozart replied: Yes, but I didn't have to ask how.To write timeless symphonies requires a genius that running does not demand, lucky for us, but the problem of explanation is much the same: If you have to ask, you just don't get it. And you probably won't get it.

But you get it, don't you? You would never ask someone: Why do you run? (Except maybe rhetorically.)

Nevertheless, even you who "get it" have a hard time articulating your passion. I think that is because running is a passion of the spirit. And explaining the spirit is never easy. Running is the expressway to self-confidence, self-awareness, self-discipline and self-reliance. From running, you learn the harsh realities of your physical and mental limitations. From running, you gain strategies for extending those limitations, that you might run farther, run faster, and run tougher. You learn that personal responsibility, commitment, sacrifice, determination, and persistence are the only means of improvement. Running, you come to understand, is a profound, far-reaching and never ending contest of the runner with himself, or herself. And you learn that runners only get promoted through self-conquest.

Running asks a question of you, and everyday it's the same question: Are you going to be a wimp, or are you going to be strong today?

And when you answer that question in the way that you people in this room have answered it, you become a better, stronger, more confident animal, with a capacity for achievement greater than before, and a formula for success that is forever engraved on your brain. The single, most outstanding characteristic of the runner is independence. Through your own will, you present yourselves to the fire; and the fire changes you, permanently and forever.

Body and spirit
I surrendered whole
To harsh instructors
And received a soul.

--Rudyard Kipling

All that I can say is. . . Amen.


  1. Adam:
    thanks so much for sharing that! that was wonderful to read!! Really hit the nail on the head. I need to read that speech every night before a race! " are you going to be a wimp or are you going to run strong today?" I LOVE IT!!

    take care and happy trails!! :o)

    spring is right around the corner!!


  2. Glad you were inspired Jenny. I hope that you are right about spring!... we finally saw the sun for the second time in a month yesterday.

  3. Jenny and Adam, As a side bar, I read that here in Johnson City we had 3 sunny days in February. Yesterday was sunny in the afternoon with snow in the morning. Ran a fast 5 miles yesterday afternoon with the Foot RX group (roadies) on their hilly 5 mile loop. 36:45. My lungs were abused. Maybe I need to do that more often. Wimpy or tough. That is the question.

    Jenny, I have yet to see your name pop up as an entrant to Cheat. This really needs to be your first 50 miler. Quick trip up to Beverly, WV and back in the family van. Put a little peer pressure on Beth. I am going to work on both of you Sunday afternoon.

    Adam, I have not read the full speech, but I certainly agree with what was said. Other than some slack times and one total stop for a year, I have been running since 1972 when I was 12 years old. I also have trouble putting into words why I run, but I can tell you that the reasons I run have changed over time. In 1972, I was an average athlete in basketball, below average in football and at the bottom of the barrel in baseball, but I could run. I remember in 7th grade an announcement came over the intercom about cross-country. I had to ask my teacher what it was. Running started out as an attempt to be good at something. The first day of practice, the coach took us out and dropped us off 3 miles from school. We had to run back to school. I was wearing Converse canvas shoes, which would be minimilist today. I barely made it back and I almost did not go back to practice the second day. I did and soon found out I was pretty good. Things stayed competitive for many years with everything being geared for placement and times. Priorities in life change and your particular situation changes, so running changes along with it, but running stays a big part of your life. Then trail / ultra running came along and a new thrill and purpose poked its head into my running life. Somehow I seem very content to stay in this newfound form of running. Do I run anymore for the competitiveness, not so much. Do I run anymore for the way it makes me feel, yes. Do I run anymore for the social impact that it has on my life, a most definite yes. In conclusion as a too long comment, I am passionate about where I am today in my running life. It is special again and I do not see that ever going away. I love being outside and in the woods, but the specialness really comes from those individuals I have met and who have become such close friends.

  4. Rick,
    Thanks for sharing and as always I really enjoy reading/hearing what you have to say. I agree with you that the draw of ultra/trail running is far more about the comradarie than the competition for me as well.
    I'm heading down to Catawba today for that very reason. Looking forward to a good drive down w/ Lehmann, spending the evening with running friends, then spending some time on some snow-covered trails with them all tomorrow. That's what it's all about!

  5. Adam, You are very welcome. What you do with your blog is an important part in keeping our spirits alive in this wonderful world that we are a part. One day I am going to be able to work things out to head up to Catawba to do the run-a-round thing. You and Dan be careful in your travels. Hopefully some of the snow will be gone. Say hello to all of our friends for me. The list is a great group of people and I will miss being a part of all of the fun. Tammy and I are heading to a new place to run some trails tomorrow morning and then Sunday afternoon we will meet up with Jenny and Beth for a little trail scouting run out of Damascus. Beth has organized a St. Patty's Day run next weekend, so we are going to help out with the course layout (really run over the course she has already laid out). Tammy has to help me out with the green outfit I am going to wear. This trail running stuff keeps us young. Have a great weekend.