Friday, March 14, 2014

Why We Track What We Run

Why do I call this blog A Runner’s Journal?

For me, running is all about moments. There’s the feeling of laces tightening around your foot. There’s the butterflies you might get stepping onto your running trail. There’s the soreness and uneasiness of those first few strides, when your muscles shake off the snow of inactivity. There’s struggle as you breathe harder, the air clawing at to your lungs. There’s relief as the movements become automatic and you hit your stride. There’s the thrill of pushing yourself, of hearing your footsteps, of almost being done. Then there’s the satisfaction of finishing, the rush of endorphins like a warm blanket settling around your shoulders.

Also, there's the joy of spotting the dog turd BEFORE you step in it.

How would a running journal, or any recollection of your running stats, capture that feeling? All it has are the static numbers and conditions that represent your run any given day. Yet still I pore over my run on Map My Run every morning. I look at the reports of my total distance for a week or month, track my pace over elevation changes, and revel in my total miles so far.

Guys, I know I’m not alone in doing this, so we runners must be getting something out of it.

And it's not a sponsorship deal with MapMyRun, despite my blatant advertisement.

Obviously, many of us would say that paying attention to such details is a way to track progress and plan improvement. Of course, that’s partly the case. But I think there's something deeper going on in the way our culture has become obsessed over tracking different forms of exercise. There are a million different apps out there for running, bicycling, lifting, walking, everything.

So here’s why I think we cling to the information contained in a running journal (digital or otherwise).

As I outlined above, running gives you those intensely personal moments, but they are fleeting, insulated from the rest of the day. When they are gone, their intensity fades as well. Suddenly, the act of running becomes shrouded in the minutia of our days, and so it gets simplified. It might start to look like a chore. It might start to look like a luxury you don’t have time for. It might start to look like something that is too hard. Our brains simplify running in this way because they love categorizing things. It’s a way of simplifying the million things we have to do each day and preparing us for what might be expected with any given task.

But ultimately there’s something intangible about running that you don’t have direct access to outside of the run itself. Considering it a chore, an obligation, or a responsibility is oversimplifying the act. It would be like putting the appreciation of art on a to-do list.

10:00 - breakfast. 10:30 - arrive at Sistine Chapel. 10:35 - absorb beauty of art, realize depth of human achievement, fathom beauty of earth and its peoples. 10:40 - lunch! Probably Italian.

But detailing our running stats in a running journal is a way of paying respect to the intangibles that make up the run. By obsessing over details, pace, and distance I think I’m trying to recapture those moments during the run. It’s the closest I can get to those running moments during the day, and it’s a testament to the power of our sport that even reflecting on a run can be so addicting. It’s like looking at photographs of a vacation. You’re not as happy as when you were there, but it’s nice to remember.

So that’s why I call this blog A Runner’s Journal. These essays are a way for me to reflect on and respect the runs that so center my life. Rather than recording statistics, I use words, and metaphors, and silly gifs as a way to capture some of the crazy, life-fulfilling moments making up each run.

And I think everyone could benefit from doing the same. With so many options online, there isn’t really any excuse.

In case you were still wondering: really not getting paid by them

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