To become better

I will never be an Olympian. Running isn’t going to pay the bills. And since New York races are super competitive, I probably won’t even place in my age group (at least till I’m 60). Running is hard, sometimes it even hurts. It takes up a lot of time. And it can be expensive. It can be frustrating. And a lot of people will think you are weird.

I think my running friends mostly get it, but my non-running friends and co-workers? The thought of waking up at 6am on a Saturday to bust out 15 miles sounds plain crazy. So why do we do it? Why do we peel ourselves out of our warm beds when the rest of the world is soundly sleeping? Why do we lace up our shoes after a long day at work even though a beer sounds so much better? Why do we do this to ourselves? I mean, if we’re not going to win, what’s the point?

Sure, we all have individual reasons – to lose weight, to finish a race, to clear our heads, but I think for many of us, the act of running is a quantifiable way of bettering ourselves. I just finished John L. Parker’s Again to Carthage (he also wrote the cult-classic Once a Runner back in the 70’s) and the protagonist says it better than I ever could:

“When you’re a competitive runner in training, you are constantly in a process of ascending…It’s not something most human beings would give a moment of consideration to, that it is actually possible to be living for years in a state of constant betterment.

To consider that you are better today than you were yesterday or a year ago, and that you will be better still tomorrow or next week…That if you’re doing it right you are an organism constantly evolving toward some agreed-upon approximation of excellence. Wouldn’t that be at least one definition of a spiritual state?”

Maybe it’s hormones or because it’s race week, but I found myself nearly choking up with emotion as I read these paragraphs. “YES”, I thought, “this is why I train and compete.” When it comes to a career, further education, relationships, a family…sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing. Am I on the right track? Will I be a success? I don’t know. But I do know that I can better myself through running. I can doggedly log the miles, gut out track workouts, train myself to remain mentally strong during races. And this can all be quantified. Was I 10 seconds faster on this week’s tempo run? Did I run a PR? For now, that satisfies me.

Once most people start training for races, it can be difficult to stop. The feeling you get from logging more miles, running faster than you ever have before, getting stronger…the tired satisfaction after a week of miles, the elation at the finish line of a PR, even feeling like you might keel over in that last hard interval…that is my definition of the runner’s high.

Of course, there are dips in this constant state of ascension. You may get injured, you might feel burnt out, life may get in the way. It happens….but when you’re just getting better and better…when you’re working toward a goal that you had previously thought impossible – THAT is why we do this.

Heh. Hopefully that wasn’t too deep for a Wednesday night…

Moving on to the “Kitchen” portion of the blog, I’ve been trying to eat well this week in preparation for the Philly half on Sunday. So, lots of veggies (yay, thank you CSA delivery!), whole grains, almond butter, beans, eggs, greek yogurt, etc. Some of my kitchen creations this week have involved –

Monday – Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Chocolate Cake (red wine + chocolate = antioxidants!!). It’s healthy. Don’t argue with me.

Tuesday – Tomatoes, mayo, and fancy salt on whole grain toast. With kale chips. I’ve eaten this sandwich a minimum of two times a week since August.

Wednesday – This time with bacon! God damn, this was a good sandwich.

Does excessive tomato consumption result in fast running? I hope so.

Has anyone else read Once a Runner or Again to Carthage? I’m looking for suggestions for similar books!

  • Jeremy Sng

    Hi there! This post is timely; my brother had just bought me a book called ‘Running and Philosophy: a Marathon for the Mind’.

    Philosophers from various places and their thoughts on what / WHY we runners do what we do.

    I love the book because it reminds me that i’m not crazy, and reinforces my slight angst at people who go “You went for a run at 6am this morning? You’re crazy!”

    We’re not crazy; we’ve got a goal we wanna achieve!


  • So true 🙂 We runners are crazy people and its definitely hard to explain why we do what we do. I definitely want to check out that running philosophy book. That should be a college course or something!

  • Love that quote. I hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re right. It is about improvement — and it’s one thing that I can do myself and see results. 

    Good Luck this weekend in Philly! You’ll kill it. 

  • RunTheLongRoad

    I’ll be on the lookout for you on Sunday at the PDR (amongst all the other thousands of runners!).  Good luck!

  • I absolutely loved reading this (and am adding Once a Runner and Again to Carthage to my reading list). I have often described my start in running as “giving me control over one thing in my life, when it felt like everything else was out of control.” But it is deeper than that… it’s not just control, it’s… progress.

  • This was a really powerful post to read.  I’m over 40 and have not been running very long (< year) and I run slower than a racing turtle.  I'm going to (try to) run a marathon in 2012 and I run simply because I can.

  • Rachel

    Some great running books: Born to Run–will make you want to go out and run 20 miles, and Running with the Buffaloes–the story of the CU and Adam Gaucher’s senior season. Both so good. Good luck this weekend!

  • Ericka Andersen

    Great post! I feel very similar about running…and you’ve inspired to pick up another running book. The last one I read, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” was pretty good. I might have to check out the one you mentioned! I love having kindred running spirits! 🙂

  • Love this post. Since I’ve become running obsessed (can I call myself a runner, yes?), I’ve been wondering why on EARTH I cared so much when it really didn’t matter at all. And, you said it perfectly. Running gives me a way to better myself outside of all of my other pursuits, and I think it enhances everything else I do, mainly school. I think I need to read this book! Planning for races, training hard, giving your best effort and seeing it pay off — I can’t think of a better hobby to have.

    I liked Matt Fitzgerald’s RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel — probably too much, considering I want to run my race this weekend without a watch.

    GOOD LUCK this weekend!!!

  • Corey

    That is such a powerful quote, Megan. Ive never been able to come up with as eloquent words to explain why I run, but that really resonates with me. For me running is definitely spiritual and something I do for more than just being in shape or following a training plan. If I’ve been doing it for this many years, its got to be a bigger thing, and a part of who I am and my goal to always grow and, as you say, better myself. Thank you for making me think about this..its just what I needed today.

  • Anonymous

    oooh, that quote just gave me the chills. I love it! And I think it sums up perfectly why I run too – it’s so rewarding and satisfying to know that what I’m doing is making me better in some way. And the fact that I love it is even more amazing. I haven’t read either of those books but am adding them to my list ASAP. Inspiration!

    PS I miss running with you!!

  • though i’m not quite the runner that you are, i can definitely relate to that sentiment! i’ve read once a runner and only recently found out about the 2nd book…can’t wait to pick it up!

  • Anonymous

    I started training with team in training at the begining of the summer for my first half marathon, the hamptons half, and stumbled upon your blog soon after and have been following ever since. Just wanted to let you know, I love reading it! Last month I suffered a stress fracture during one of our hill training runs and unfortunately will not be able to participate in the half next weekend but your blog has kept me motivated :o) Thanks!!

  • Love this! All so true. Fundamentally, I love the way running and achieving a new running goal makes me feel. Always have, always will.
    I’m listening to the audiobook of “The Long Run” by Matt Long (as recommended by Kelly w/MealsforMiles!). Loving it so far – very inspirational.
    Red Wine Chocolate Cake? Amazing.
    Haha, I love your go-to dinner. We all have our quirky meals – be proud!


  • i’m so sorry about your stress fracture. stay positive – do what you can to cross train and keep in touch with your running buddies. you’ll be back on the roads soon!

  • Anonymous

    i’m also thinking about racing watch-less this weekend…the Garmin messes with my head too much!

  • Anonymous

    yay, i hope i see you!! i’ll be wearing an orange CPTC singlet.

  • Anonymous

    that book is on my “to read” list! thanks for the reminder 🙂

  • OMG red wine chocolate cake looks amazing. Can you taste the wine in it?

    Good luck this weekend! You will do great. 🙂 Love the quote, too.

  • Anonymous

    You can taste the red wine a little – I like it!

  • Great post!  I loved Once a Runner, and have just picked up Again to Carthage.  I’d also recommend What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and Mile Markers:The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run which is a wonderful collection of essays.  Another running book that I love is Marathon Woman, which is Kathrine Switzer’s autobiography.  It truly horrifies me to think that women couldn’t even compete in an Olympic Marathon until 1984, and reading about Kathrine championing women’s running, not to mention her own intense training and desire to be a better runner, is incredibly inspiring.

  • once i get caught up in a training cycle it just seems to give me purpose. like something to complete me/complement my life.  i’m starting to feel that way now. hopefully it keeps going until my next race!

    i’ve read once a runner. unfortunately i happen to stumble on good running related books/motivational ones. usually the ones i read are murder/mystery/detective ones…

  • I could not agree more with you. I get obsessed with achieving all my silly little goals, even though i’m like a bajillion minutes slower than you, my ten minute miles can feel like a victory.  thanks for another great post.

  • I can’t tell you how perfect this post was. I love running. I haven’t always been a runner but since I have started it has become such an important part of my life. Sometimes though I do wonder…what exactly am I doing this for? That quote and this whole post say it perfectly. I love knowing that I can constantly work to be better. Excited to read the whole book!

    Good luck this weekend!

  • Grace @ Balancing Me

    Hmm, all interesting. I only hopped on the Garmin bandwagon this year, and all half-marathon races previous to this I’ve run A) without music, and B) without a Garmin. I was planning on doing both, but I’m not so sure now. Maybe I should be more worried about getting physically better and away from this virus!  😉 Megan, I’ll be in Philly too! Unsure now if I’ll be able to run, but mayhaps I see you around the finish? I’m going no matter what!

  • I am not racing a 10K with a garmin, thats for sure. I may even go watchless…completely hippie. I like the instant gratification of knowing my time right then and there so I may run with it but not look at it or put a sticker over it…

  • As a somewhat new runner (only one year), I often find myself on those early Saturday mornings questioning why I’m bothering when everyone else is lounging around at home.  But, at the end of the run, the question is answered for me.  There’s nothing like the feeling of turning into my driveway after completing 10 or 12 miles.  I just feel so good the rest of the day.  Running has definitely won me over and has become a constant in my life.

    I haven’t read either of those books, so I can’t offer a suggestion for other similar reads.  But, I am going to add them to my reading list.  I’m always looking for new, inspirational running books.

  • Ah, I LOVED this post. I feel very similar. Running makes me feel like I’m going somewhere, whereas in work/career I feel completely lost. That feeling of waking up before everyone else on a Saturday/Sunday morning to run the empty streets or running paths is so peaceful and satisfying. 

  • You’ve had such AMAZING posts lately.  And I love this one.  Really, that quote is definitely one of the reasons why we run and why racing is so obsessive…the feeling of pushing yourself, every day, to get better is indescribable.  I love hitting the pavement and seeing what my legs can do, and it’s one of the things in life we have more control over.  Life may get busy, work may be stressful, people may be annoying, but when you go out there, it’s just you and the road.

  • I missed commenting on this post and had to go back because it is so. spot. on. I’ve loved your reflective posts as of late, and this sums up exactly why I run too. While the rest of life (job, friends, family, love, etc.) can be a bit unpredictable and go awry for many factors, running can be controlled. It’s entirely up to you. One foot in front of the other, working towards ….something. A new personal distance record, a new personal best time, a new route or destination. A sense of ‘bettering’ ones self. There is always room for improvement, and it’s 100% up to you how far you go and how much you give. Also, it’s nice that success in running (times/distance) is quantifiable, unlike many other areas of life.

    PS- Cake looks awesome. Can I come over and drink red wine while eating red wine cake? Yum!