If You Have to Ask

My friend Vicki has this quote (it’s inscribed on her Road ID), “If you have to ask “Why?,” you’re not a runner.”  She tells me she stole that quote somewhere along her way.

Personally, I would go so far as to say that if you have to ask “Why?” not only are you not a runner, I’m not going to be able to explain it to you.

Here are a few of the questions I’ve encountered lately.

Why Not Just Join a Gym?

I was talking with a friend about my foot issue and the associated problems with trying to stay fit while unable to run.  Please note that I love this woman, and (as I understand it) she would jump on the running bandwagon were it not for foot trouble of her own, of a more permanent nature.  Also, she’s been killing it at the gym with a personal trainer lately.  I mention this because she’s not just some lazy, non-working-out babe who thinks I’m a whack job for running.

She asked me how often I race (~once a month) and how much race fees are (~$20 to $65 or more depending upon the size of the event and distance of the race).  She pointed out that the cost of those race fees would more than cover at least a basic gym membership.  The implied question was wouldn’t that money be better spent, then, on a gym membership?  She said I’m basically paying someone for me to exercise, anyway, so why not spend that money on a gym?

I started to babble, but I’m sure my answer didn’t make any sense.  At least to her.  If you have to ask why I wouldn’t forego racing to spend the money on something else, then you’re just not a runner.  And if I try to explain, it’s not going to make sense to you.

Now I know that runners don’t necessarily race, but the ones I know do race, at least occasionally.  For me – and I think most of my friends – having a race as a goal and a deadline provides a framework for setting training goals.  It helps me answer some important questions, specifically:

  • “How far do I need to run today (or this week)?”  And,
  • “How fast do I need to run today?”

Personally, having a race on the horizon is what makes me stretch myself.  Otherwise, I’d probably just plod along at the same old pace or same old distance.  And that would be both boring and ineffective.

But there’s more.  Even with more self-discipline and a gym membership, I’d still want to race.  Races are something I look forward to.  It’s a big fitness and social event – even if you don’t personally know anyone else there.  Also, even though I’ve never gotten to participate in a “big” race – one with an expo, entertainment along the route, etc. – I still love the anticipation that mounts prior to the gun.  The crowd gathers, I run a little warm up lap, I find my place among the runners at the start and wonder how I’m going to perform, how I’m going to feel throughout  the race.  Despite the fact that there’s not a lot at stake when I race, it’s super exciting.  I’m not likely to win anything, and even if I did, few people would care.  My performance won’t earn me a college scholarship, or even get my name in the paper.  But it’s the closest thing I know that you can do as an adult that recaptures that competitive feeling you got as a kid participating in sports.

In short, a race the goal and the reward all at the same time.

Just SOME of the friends I ran The Great Race with last fall

Just SOME of the friends I ran The Great Race with last fall.  (Don’t ask me what I’m doing with my arms.)

Why Would You Run at 5:00AM?

I meet up with my friends at 5:00 several times a week to run.  I get a lot of “You guys run at what time?” – as if the person suspects they heard me incorrectly.  People ask both why I would and how I could do such a thing.  I’m pretty most don’t get my answer – that it’s the only time I have, and I simply have to run, so I take advantage of it.    I wish I could convey to them how squeezing a run in before most people are awake readies you to kick the day’s ass in a way I’ve never otherwise known, but I think it’s something you have to experience to believe.

Why Do You Keep Running Through the Winter?

If simply running at 5AM isn’t enough, doing it in freezing temperatures really baffles people.  They’ll ask why we don’t just take a break, or do something indoors, until the weather gets warmer. But runners don’t hibernate.  I can explain that, after the initial shock to the system wears off, that running in cold temperatures is actually rather exhilarating, but no one seems to believe it.  Some of us are even convinced that sucking all that cold air actually helps us fend off respiratory infections that plague many people through the winter months.  Further, I would personally rather run in 17 degrees than 60+, but heat is my particular kryptonite and that doesn’t apply to everyone.  If you have to ask why, you’re not a runner and you’re simply not going to understand why heading out in ouchy-level temperatures is actually way less painful than having to re-start yourself in the spring.  (And exceedingly less painful than running on a treadmill!)

Why Are You Still Planning to Run Pittsburgh [After Boston]?

Okay first, no one is asking me since I had to bale due to my foot.  And the question doesn’t come out like that exactly, but it’s the gist.  My friends are being asked why they’re still planning on participating in the Pittsburgh marathon on May 5th.  If you have to ask why runners will show up to run the Pittsburgh marathon (or half) after the tragic events that took place in Boston, you obviously haven’t trained for something for 4-5 months.  You’re not going to understand how tossing all that work aside for the illusion of personal safety is simply not an option.  Also, refer back to the business above about 5AM runs in the cold.  We’re just not that easily put off.  We can be stubborn beyond all reason.  We endure all kinds of crap to get our runs in and to enjoy our sport.  Also, as much as the running community (and everyone else) is absolutely crushed by the injuries and loss of life that resulted in Boston, I think there’s also an undercurrent of anger and defiance flowing through the running community.  As seen on t-shirts and various internet posts: We will run on.  We’re not going to start cowering in our basements on treadmills because a couple of dumb othertruckers decided to mess with one of running’s biggest and most celebrated events.  So if you’re asking why because you don’t understand it, no answer we can supply is going to make you understand it.

The answer is simply because I’m a runner.

What other why questions do people ask you about your running?


I started this post earlier in the week, but as I’m finishing this, authorities in Boston are on the hunt for suspect #2 in the bombings.  I’m praying for the safety of people in the area and that the guy is nabbed ASAP – without any additional harm to others.  I’m relieved that we now know at least a little more about why this happened – and that it wasn’t carried out by some weirdo who had a grudge against runners.  Not that that makes it okay, but to know that runners in particular weren’t being targeted is reassuring news for people expecting to run in an upcoming race.  I know the events will result in heightened security at big races and other events that attract crowds, but I think racers will feel a little more comfortable as they prepare to race soon.  Because they will show up, regardless.


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