The paradox of running

Running is a good hard thing.

Primitively, running is our most and least natural instinct. As kids, we run when carefree (like at recess) or careful (like from danger). But our bodies also tell us not to run, to conserve our energy.

This paradox captures the essence of my running experience.

Running is an expression of joy. I love the routine, the repetition, the cadence. I love finding flow, feeling present and mindless at once.

Yet, every run is a chore. Getting out the door is a negotiation. Running takes time and effort, and sometimes I have none to offer. I rarely want to run, even though I’m happier when I do.

So running is good, and running is hard. Running is a good hard thing.

But I don’t value running in spite of its challenge. I value running because of its challenge.

The harder the run, the more satisfying its conclusion. Running is great, having run is greater.

Each run is a small victory, a feat of physical and mental fitness. When done habitually, these small victories become a great one. More than other sports, running is democratic. You get out what you put in. Run a lot and with intention, you get faster. Natural talent may gift a head start, but discipline and consistency matter most.

There’s no clearer manifestation of this than a marathon. Toe the start line without proper training and you’re in for a very long day. But if you put in the effort to train in earnest, those 26.2 miles will feel like the ultimate celebration.

Don’t get me wrong, running a marathon means suffering. The closer you get to the finish line, the farther it feels you have to run. Time slows. Exhaustion consumes. Your heart beats faster, faster, faster with every strike into the pavement.

In those last miles, the muscle to flex is grit. When your body is telling you to slow, you remember: this is what I trained for. Every time you laced up your shoes at the crack of dawn or the last light of dusk. The runs under the scorching sun or frigid rains, up steep trails or through monotonous roads. The intervals, the tempo runs, the long-slow distances. You did all that so you could do this. So you don’t stop. You just put one foot in front of the other.

Proverbial finish lines are great but literal finish lines are greater. You sprint through the finish line (you may be crawling, but you’re sprinting) and reality sets in that you made it.

This moment is on par with the most intense emotions I’ve experienced. It’s euphoria. A cocktail of triumph laced with intoxicating fatigue. Even the soreness feels good, evidence of your accomplishment. You wrap yourself in a heat blanket, devour a banana, and embrace the moment with thousands of others feeling the exact same thing.

I won’t spell out the metaphors. They’re so on the nose that “marathon” describes any daunting task. Suffice to say, run a marathon and the unachievable becomes achievable. Do one hard thing and you can do another. Keep running — it’s the ultimate good hard thing.

Product lead at Facebook. NY born, SF raised, Chicago educated. Endurance runner. More writing: http://davidharris.work