The Runner’s Hourglass
While listening to “S-Town” (currently the most downloaded podcast of all time) as I ran, I was completely captivated by the storyline. John B McLemore, an eccentric clockmaker and antiquarian horologist, is the main character of the show and has a unique relationship with his community, his planet, and time itself. In an essay, John defines the amount of time one has to achieve a worthwhile life…going into precise detail the amount of time spent waking, sleeping, commuting, convalescing, etc. His conclusion, after careful calculation, is that the average person who lives about 25,000 days on this planet, can pursue matters that are meaningful for a grand total of 4500 hours — a shockingly meager amount of time to squeeze all our passions and pursuits.
As runners, our relationship with time is a strange one. We shuffle around our calendars to squeeze in our workouts that are governed by a clock. We aim to position our long runs wherever we can afford the time, and spend our interval days being a slave to time, agonizing over every second (“the oval and the stopwatch don’t lie” is burned into my medulla oblongata). We train for years to shave off minutes in a marathon. If we’re successful, we get a day to bask in the glow of a shiny new PR, and before the dust settles, we’re already calculating how to shave off a few more seconds.
For some of us, those shiny PRs have spent a decade collecting dust in the attic of a garage, and we’re left to chase after obscure records while running in animal costumes. We’re shadows of our former athletic selves, and the meaning behind the numbers on the stopwatch has either evolved, or we’ve quit the sport altogether (perhaps shifting our pursuits to jui jitsu fighting instead). So what is the allure after our glory days have long since past?
Personally, I’ve found the camaraderie of battling time together with training friends (past and present) is what keeps me coming back day after day. Just as soldiers often miss combat after the war is over, runners keep signing up for marathons. Forging fitness, at it’s core, is more about the process than the outcome, and more about the community, than the PRs. Perhaps, it is more about experiencing every heart beat in the 4500 hours of meaningful life that keeps us running back for more.
- Jake Stout is a former runner bum turned physical therapist at Physio PDX.