Fair warning- this is going to be a somewhat disjointed post. This post is essentially about the renewed realization that what I do a runner isn’t terribly important. I shouldn’t be too excited to pat myself on the back for running any given race… there are people out there that do far more demanding things as a necessity for survival.
I recently started working as a temporary driver’s helper for UPS. The job involves helping deliver packages during the high volume holiday season. I spend my day climbing in and out of the truck and carrying packages to businesses, houses, and apartments. The packages are sometimes heavy and there are a lot of stairs. Needless to say it’s a physically demanding job. It’s like a Crossfit workout wrapped into a 6-10 hour long run… five days per week. I’m well-suited for the job because I’ve basically been training for it for years.
My driver, Eric, is an introspective and a keen observer of human behavior. We spend our days discussing a wide variety of topics. Eric is also a shop steward for our union, so he deals with employees that get injured. Since the job is so physically demanding, the injury rate is quite high.
We were discussing injuries (I was comparing the job to running). He started telling stories of workers that would hide injuries because they wanted to keep working. They were concerned about survival- this job fed their kids.
During this conversation, I began reflecting on my journey through the running world over the last six or seven years. Specifically, I started thinking about the posts I’ve written here, topics I’ve posted in forums, and comments and pictures I’ve posted on Facebook. I realized a fair amount of that activity was of the “Hey, look at me; look what I did!” variety.
And I felt deeply embarrassed.
The overt narcissism of the attention-seeking, when compared to the stories of the dudes sacrificing their health for the welfare of their families, made me cringe. I am proud of my running accomplishments; some of the races were truly difficult. At the same time, it’s just running. It’s a voluntary, manufactured adversity I created so I could congratulate myself afterward. There were no stakes. If I quit, my kids wouldn’t starve.
I haven’t had time to fully explore these feelings, but I did start to make some connections. I had a hard time verbalizing why I had no interest in running Chimera. It wasn’t just burnout… it was something else. I knew it had to do with losing the intrinsic motivation to race. Once lost, the only rationalization for running the race would be the external attention-seeking motivation- the “Look at me!” factor.”
As much as I like to joke about being an attention whore, it makes me really uncomfortable. I always managed it by mentally re-framing the attention as a teaching situation, which is the only social situation where I feel comfortable being the center of attention. This is the main reason the vast majority of my writing usually has an “instructional guide” feel to it.
Anyway, the lack of intrinsic motivation from burnout coupled with the removal of the cloak of teaching to hide behind left only one reason to run- attention. I just couldn’t do it.
The experiences of this temporary job have helped clarify that. It’s difficult to talk about running hundos in an environment where you’re reminded that there are people out there making real sacrifices. There are people busting their asses day in and day out, risking their health (and even lives in some professions) just to survive.
I’ve had the good fortune to be in a position to enjoy a comfortable life. Even as a hobo, I don’t worry about survival. My lifestyle is entirely voluntary. I intentionally manufacture my adversity, which includes my running exploits. I suspect my recent experiences will dramatically alter the frequency and tone of my discussions on my own running experiences, which is a good thing. I should have recognized the overt narcissism long ago; the vast majority of the people working to survive on a daily basis are far more deserving of accolades. Not only do they work far harder than I ever have, their stakes are infinitely higher.
Over the last seven days, I’ve been sufficiently humbled. As a runner, I’m not doing anything special. I have to start acting accordingly.