by Chris Compson
Lately I have been thinking a great deal about purpose. Perhaps this is a byproduct of winter marathon training and battling what seems to be a never-ending deluge of polar vortexes. When your eyelids are frozen open by wind and sleet, and you’ve lost all sensation in your appendages, the “what am I doing” question plays like a song on repeat with every consecutive mile. To train for a marathon at any time, you have to be, what polite friends call, quirky. To train for a marathon through an upstate New York winter, you have to be downright crazy.
I fully admit that for this, and many other reasons, my grip on sanity is tenuous at best. My friends and family could certainly contribute quite a list of my “eccentric” habits that most annoy them. One that my wife not-so-nonchalantly mentions on a regular basis is how I walk in public places. In the brief interlude between the car and the mall entrance, it is not uncommon for my wife to remind me at least a dozen times that this “is not a race.” Whether it is a result of competing as a runner, or a general disdain for mall commerce, I have always been an aggressive and direct walker, moving at a pace just shy of knocking over small children and the elderly.
I tell my students my maniacal march is called “walking with purpose.” To this, my hoards of 14 to 18 year-olds roll their eyes and shake their heads. What can I expect from the generation that coined the term “whatever” as a plausible response to any and all interrogations? What they and my wife see as an aberration of behavior is actually a critical characteristic of success in running, and life.
Defining and being purposeful in our running, and life, is essential to reaping all the rewards of our efforts. In a 1908 article, “The Powers of a Strenuous President”, it was noted that Theodore Roosevelt frequently pulled his watch from his pocket and cut off interviews, or signed a paper, and then turned instantly, according to his time-table, to his next engagement. As the article states, “Thus we have the spectacle of a man of ordinary abilities who has succeeded through the simple device of self-control and self-discipline, of using every power he possesses to its utmost limit.” Theodore Roosevelt was a model of the purposeful life, and would likely have made a great distance running coach.
The first question I often ask young or new runners is, “what is the purpose of your run today?” While there certainly is merit to simply “logging the miles,” and this is far more desirable than extending your existence on the couch, your running cannot improve nor ever reach its “utmost limits” without clearly defining the purpose of each run. Some days it is necessary to challenge ourselves with a faster pace or a further distance. Some days it is necessary to back off the throttle and give our bodies a chance to recover. Some days it is necessary to forget all of this and enjoy a sunny break in the weather with a casual and meandering jaunt, which for us will likely be sometime in May.
Regardless of the answer, it is asking the question that matters. Defining the purpose of your run every day will make your training more effective and more enjoyable. Unfortunately, it may also turn you into a mall speed-walker. But I imagine that Theodore Roosevelt would not have dilly-dallied outside JCPenny or ever been “just browsing,” so you and I are in good company.
Chris Compson has run at the state, national and international level and spent several years coaching beginning runners. You can follow his post about running and other pursuits at soulitarypursuits.blogspot.com, or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org