Mile, Chasers, and Running Away

On Saturday, I drove up to Lakeside, California in Orange County to run in an All-Comers track meet. I have always loved racing the mile. It’s intense, just like my personality.

These all-comers track meets tend to attract a lot of middle school and high school kids, but not a lot of adults. Adults tend to shy away from the track. I think it’s because of the intensity. Adults tend to get intimidated by intensity. People tend to gravitate toward long and slow over short and fast. Indeed, the half-marathon and marathon are the most popular races in America. But I like to cut against the grain. My whole life has been about cutting against the grain. Ever since I was a kid, I have always done things the hard way.

But on Saturday, there were actually some adults at the meet, and enough masters (age 40+) runners to have a separate masters race. Masters races are fun. We’re like a bunch of old guys trying to recapture our youth. And some are discovering the youth of track for the first time.   

For the first time in a long time, it rained for a track meet in California. I don’t like racing anywhere in the rain, but I like it even less on the track. I like to feel the track beneath my feet.

I’ve been wearing the 2017 version of my high school’s jersey the last few races. The current coach of my high school team gave me the jersey to wear when I met him at a track coaches clinic in New Jersey in December. Running in a track meet wearing the jersey of my high school team brings me back to my high school running days. If I only knew then what I know now…  

About 250 meters into the race, I took the lead from the guy who went into the lead from the start. I often would rather sit and kick, but I felt that his pace was too slow, even in the rain. I ran the rest of the race in the lead. At my age, it’s not often I get the opportunity to lead a race. I feel like I’m being chased, and trying to run away from everyone else.

I ended up winning the race, but I could feel myself tying up in the last 100 meters. There were a lot of people cheering, and I could hear encouragement for the runner behind me, so I knew he must have been close. Over the final 50 meters, I could feel my form falling apart, and I was just trying to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. It was a relief to get there first. But it wasn’t without a huge effort.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?  

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No achievement—running or otherwise—is meaningful without a huge effort. It is in the commitment to prepare and in the effort of the moment itself that we find true reward. And so my achievement on this day wasn’t so much that I had won a race against other masters runners. It was that I didn’t give up and kept trying to run away—from them, and from myself. As I wrote in The Inner Runner, “I run away from the person I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be that overweight, slow, out-of-shape lazy guy who sits in his La-Z-Boy chair or on a sports bar stool and watches football all day Sunday in his undershirt. I don’t want to be the middle-aged man who looks himself in the mirror and wonders where the good-looking high school athlete went, deciding to run a marathon or race a mile to cure his mid-life crisis. I don’t want to be the person who takes the easy way out and never challenges himself. I don’t want to be the person who lives an ordinary life. So I run away from it. All of it. I run away from becoming lazy. I run away from the guilt of not running. I run away from a bad race I had last weekend. I run away from becoming normal and ordinary. I run away from all of the things I don’t like about myself. I run away from complacency.

When we run, we are free from what binds us, from what keeps us down, from what holds us back. Running helps us cope—with tragedy, with disappointment, with frustration, with sadness, with all of the negative feelings that hold us back from living a happy, fulfilling life. Whether it’s thousands of people running 26.2 miles through the streets of Boston for a common goal, or just you running three miles alone around your block before work, running, on both a large public scale and a small personal scale, gives us hope for our future.”

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