The Runner’s Question

"Do you hate yourself?"

Oct 10, 2023   |   Personal


If you tell enough people that you run, you’ll inevitably be asked this question. Usually accompanied by several other judgmental questions:

“Isn’t bad for your knees?”
“Isn’t it boring?”
“Do you hate yourself?”

The general theme behind these questions is that running sounds awful. And I agree. It does sound awful! It also has an unfortunate tendency to feel awful while you’re doing it.

When I started running, I was naive. I’d lace up my sneakers and hop out the door with the best intentions of running for 30 minutes around my neighborhood. Our ancestors ran every day, and I saw people run around the park all the time. How hard could it be?

I could barely go for two minutes before my lungs started to implode.

Through repetition and the use of a training app, I slowly worked up to 4 minutes at a time. Then, shin splints joined the party and dragged me back down to sloth speed.

I’d hobble around my house, shins ablaze, wondering if running was impossible for me. Did our ancestors get shin splints?

My friends had started running with me, and I didn’t want to get left behind, so I trudged on. It took months to figure out how to run without shin pain. I went to war with the shin splints; my attacks included buying fancy compression socks, a complex stretching routine after every run, and learning to pace myself accurately. The pain eventually surrendered, and I finally started to improve.

I could run 15 minutes at a time without walking!

I was starting to enjoy it!

Then, I developed tendonitis and had to sit out for four weeks. For about ten days, the pain was so bad that I averaged four hours of sleep. My nightly routine consisted of going to bed, waking up two hours later with unbearable pain, waiting a few hours for medication to kick in, then repeating everything the next night.

Running sucks.

If that’s the case, then the naysayers have a fair question. Why do I run? Why does any runner get up and go day after day?

This is the runner’s question. They’re asked it every time they tie their shoes. They’re asked it at every mile.

“Why are you running?”

Their body asks. Their mind asks. Their friends ask.

“Why are you running??”

If you don’t have a good answer, you probably won’t run for long. The runner’s question is a guardian of the sport, separating those who try it for a few weeks from those who will do it until they die.

But the runner’s question doesn’t have to be answered immediately. It’s a patient question. You can figure it out slowly.

When I started running, I didn’t have much of a reason. I knew I should lose a few pounds. Why not try running?

No big manifesto. No life-changing moment. Just a casual thought that I should be fitter.

That was my first, entry-level answer to the runner’s question. It got me in the door, but not much further. If it’s what I had stuck to, I would have quit after a few weeks. There are much, much less painful ways to lose weight.

But as I continued running, I found a new answer to the question.

The Runner’s Answer

I run because it’s harder than almost anything I’ve ever done.

There aren’t many tangible rewards. You don’t get jacked from it like weightlifting. You can’t dominate your friends in it like basketball.

You’ll injure yourself.
You’ll have days where you can’t finish a mile.
You’ll throw up once or twice.

And it doesn’t get any easier the more you do it. You just get faster.

But in a weird way, those are all reasons why it’s rewarding. The truth is, if it were easier, I wouldn’t do it. I run because it’s hard.

It’s different from most decisions I make in life. I’m so used to choosing the most comfortable path. I browse Twitter longer than I should. I eat meals I know are unhealthy. I avoid socializing with strangers.

In the back of my mind, I always wonder if I’ll ever have the courage or the discipline to push myself further. To jump into those uncomfortable parts of life that will lead me to a better place.

Every time I run, I gain a bit of that discipline and a bit of that courage.

There are so many times when I’m halfway through a run, and I don’t know if I can make it. I started too fast, or I had a restless night of sleep, or the sun is just too hot.

The finish line is near, but my body is closing the shop early. In these moments, my mind starts wandering towards the comfortable path.

“Just stop here. Call it an easy day.”

I can’t feel my left foot, each breath feels like it could be my last, and my mouth is in desperate search of water. This is the moment. The time when the runner’s question is asked of me, and I must respond:

I run because I don’t want to be comfortable. I run to prove that I’m capable of more, not just on the trail but in all aspects of my life.

If I can survive the discomfort of running, I can survive discomfort at work, in relationships, and in my head.

When I run, no challenge feels too big to overcome.