It sort of gives me a chuckle when I remember my little-kid-self: being like 7 years old and envisioning myself by the time I was 20 or 25 (because back then that seemed like a very old and adult-like age) and how by then I would be oh-so mature and wearing like, pencil skirts and carrying a briefcase and a latte’ to my real job while talking on a cell phone the size of Derek Zoolander’s, and having a husband and 3 kids (specifically 3, because see with 2 kids you run the risk of them having a falling-out in the future and no other siblings to fall back on, and only-children are sort of hit or miss as far as how they turn out) because I thought that was just what grown-ups did and by the time I was 20-25 I would be a GROWN UP. Granted, 20-plus years later I know that the aforementioned lifestyle would be tremendously ill-suited to my personality, so I’m thankful I was a little off in my predictions.
But at the same time it does kind of amaze me how myself and many others that I know more or less use running as an excuse to avoid moving on with “real life”, and how it seems completely normal, and actually that it seems so normal that I’m not really sure if it’s not normal. I guess if you’re making a legitimate living at this sport, that’s a totally understandable approach; it pays the bills, and it is a career, a temporary career, but still a career. But that’s not most runners, that’s hardly even some runners, such is the somewhat sad state of this sport at the professional level. For the rest of us however, the Not-Really-Pros-But-Trying-Really-Damn-Hard-To-Be-Pros, I’m not really sure if it’s just a selfish pursuit that may or may not ever go anywhere, and even if it does go anywhere, is “anywhere” even a real accomplishment? Even if you medal at the Olympics are you actually doing anything for humanity? Probably not, but in the athlete-mind whether you do something huge like that or you run a PR in a rinky-dink race, it feels pretty freakin’ good, and it feels like a real accomplishment even though 7 billion-odd other people don’t care about it. And realistically since those running accomplishments are not accomplishments that you will be physically able to attain for your entire life, that’s when putting Life on the back-burner in order to pursue those accomplishments–however modest they may be on the grand stage–starts to feel completely legitimate. If anyone caught the last Oatmeal, The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances (specifically Part 3: Selfishness and Krakens) it articulates this feeling with absolute flawlessness. This pretty much sums it up spot-on:
(For a more complete and thoroughly amusing explanation of this, follow http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running3).
Anyway, so we have this Fun Run at the BRC every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., (shameless plug), and this past week one of the kids there, a TWELVE year old no less, was making fun of us. She was telling us we’re like a bunch of little kids. To be fair, at the moment Birdsong was juggling massage balls and Tommy was…well, being Tommy. And the argument at the moment was over who was a bigger “jerkface” (for the record, she decided I’m the least of a jerkface between the three of us). So really, her assesment of us was completely justified and quite astute. In any case, a twelve year old basically just called us immature.
“YEAH SO WHAT? WE’RE LIKE LITTLE KIDS AND WE NEVER GROW UP AND WE SPENT THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON COLLEGE DEGREES THAT WE AREN’T EVEN USING,” was Tommy’s comeback (it’s in all caps because he’s loud). Sad. But so true. And I’m pretty sure we’re all using running to make it feel more acceptable.
I do have a few friends though who are kicking ass on the running scene and they have jobs that they can make a career out of and that they can retire doing, and they have Masters’ degrees or PhD’s, and they pay mortgages instead of rent, and they’re married, and they have kids, and they’re going to the Trials every four years and running A-standards and such. It’s amazing. I admire the heck out of that. But also I have absolutely no idea how they pulled all of that off. There’s a million things I like doing…I really like running, but that won’t buy food or pay bills because you certainly don’t see me at the Olympics. And I really like writing too, but most of it makes little sense to anybody except for me (case in point: this post) and I’m not banking on the idea that anybody is actually going to pay me money to read entire books’ worth of this stuff. So the long in the short is I have no idea what I really want to do, except that I do, but realistically all of my brilliant ideas are not really all that do-able unless I want to live in a lean-to made from a cardboard box behind 8th Street Wal-Mart, and I’m 27 entire years old, and that freaks me out.
And then your parents think you’re wasting your life, and then every time you see people you haven’t seen in a while (usually at other friends’ weddings, because while you were out running they were out finding their soul-mates) and they’ve gotten married or had a family or have a 6-figure job now, or they’ve gone overseas and saved thousands of orphans in Rwanda and you’re just like, “Um I PR’ed in the 5k last spring, and also I transitioned to a more minimal shoe,” And you feel satisfied and, more importantly, happy with that, and they’re looking at you and nodding and smiling just to humor you. And you know this. So then in a last-ditch effort to save yourself you start talking about your (imaginary) plans for graduate school, but then your ship is sunk when they ask you what you want to study and you don’t have a ready answer. And sometimes you walk away feeling somewhat inadequate and like you’re still that 7 year old envisioning yourself someday with pencil skirts and latte’s and Derek Zoolander’s phone. But at the same time you don’t feel truly inadequate because you got better at something you really care about, even if it doesn’t effect anybody else, and plus that “other” life just sounds so…blah. Yet on some level, you know you should feel inadequate. It’s very confusing.
Then again, even the people who have made it to the top of the sport and have a truly legitimate reason to use running as an excuse to avoid so-called “real life” because it HAS been their job, seem to have some of the same worries. I’m not a huge blog-follower, but Molly Pritz wrote a fabulous bit about the less wonderful aspects of what it’s like to put everything on hold for running and pursue it as an actual career, and the anxiety that comes with trying to figure out where to go after it’s over one day:
Running as a job is a very tiny basket in which to put all of your eggs. So as dream-like and glamorous as it seems from afar, I have to admit that I’m not sure how jealous I truly am.
I suppose when it all comes down to it then, choosing to feel “inadequate” because you haven’t got it all figured out, and for the time being your pursuit of running is doubling as both something that you love doing, yet also as a salve of sorts to dull that feeling of cluelessness and to put off the inevitable Figure-It-Out part of life, because after all you ARE trying to go to the Trials one of these days. Important buisiness! So I guess inadequacy is a chosen feeling. I guess at the end of the day if you are getting a wee bit better–even if you’re the only one who will ever know or hear about it–at something you absolutely love, and it makes you happy, then it’s not completely aimless or pointless. But then again, I could just be making excuses.