Sure, but is it worth it?
A number of things happened over the course of the past few weeks, and this post has emerged as a sort of response to the sum of them:
- The first event was an 8 mile run done in the service of review the AK Race Vest. In between miles 5 and 6 my right gastroc and right knee started to twinge a bit. I slowed my pace, assessed the situation, decided that it wasn’t detrimental—then I told my body to deal with it, and I continued on my way. By the end of the run my leg felt fine. But the reminder of that pain lingered with me…
- On the way back to my parents house this past weekend Katie and I talked a lot about her desire to return to trail running. We also talked about my love of running hills—climbing steep ascents and hammering the downhills. She knows that I love this; She knows how much I enjoy being out there, because she loves being out there too. But she warned me of the wear on my legs, my knees, my hips. I am not an elite runner; I don’t run 50+ mile weeks; I am not running races to (necessarily) race them. I need to be mindful of how much strain and torment I put my body through. (Which is also something that my mom, a physical therapist, as commented on.)
- In the most recent issue of TrailRunner there is a rather poignant quote from Lynn Bjorklund. She holds the female record for the Pikes Peak Ascent and only recently lost the record for the Pikes Peak Marathon. When asked about running the race she gave the following answer: “As for that specific race, it was quite simple. I had trained more than ever.” Then she said, “Let me stop here. I trained too much. It made for one exceptional race, but I spiraled into uears of chronic overuse injuries that took away my ability to run, as well as the joy of it…If I could replay race day, I’d give that record back in exchange for a life of healthy running. It wasn’t worth it.” [Italics added]
Each of these got me thinking about running and how we should deal with the possibility of damage to our bodies. In a way, being a runner is like being a vegan: there are critics and naysayers touting the latest studies and evidence that you are wrong and that you are doing harm to your body. I don’t put much stock in naysaying just for the sake of naysaying, but disregarding other thoughts and opinions just because they are different is the wrong thing to do. Runners and vegans alike do not want to admit, to others (let alone themselves) the possibility of being wrong—the possibility that the other shoe might fall and then we will have to be in the uncomfortable position of facing the world being mistaken.
This is a real fear that we all face, and to deny it is to live a self-delustional lie. Karl Popper is quoted as having said: “The true Enlightenment thinker, the true rationalist…is aware that he may be wrong. Above all, he values the intellectual independence of others too highly to want to convince them in important matters. He would much rather invite contradiction, preferably in the form of rational and disciplined criticism. He seeks not to convince but to arouse — to challenge others to form free opinions.”
But does accepting that I might be wrong mean that I should give up being a vegan or stop running because I might be wrong about their benefits (or possible dangers)? No—what I think this means is that we should continue doing things but be wary and accepting of other thoughts and opinions, and all the while seek to further our knowledge and understanding. What we need to give up is the idea of certainty: “Since we can never know anything for sure, it is simply not worth searching for certainty; but it is well worth searching for truth; and we do this chiefly by searching for mistakes, so that we have to correct them.“
In the context of running this means being aware of my body—its limitations, what it is saying to me on my runs, how I feel afterwards and beforehand—and looking out for mistakes or issues that need correcting. Should a serious problem arise I need to have the courage to face it head on, which might mean having to stop or change the kind of running I do. [The same could, I concede, be said for being a vegan (though it cuts both ways, and is no less applicable to omnivores). Checkout this brave post at Bonzai Aphrodite on this topic. She is an inspiration.] I need to jettison the notion that I can ever be certain that what I am doing is “good for me” or “the right thing to do,” and instead aim to continually be on the lookout for problems or fixable-issues. In that way I will, indirectly, always be aiming to better myself.
So, is it worth it? Right now, it is. Though I am not entirely certain of that.