Philosophically Speaking…

Running to the Truth

The German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche really got a bad rap. Either that or he needed a better publicist. There was that whole “God is dead” business that upset so many people and then there’s the “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” quote that’s attributed to him even though it was around in one form or another with the early Vikings.

One of my favorite Nietzsche quotes I actually read in an Outward Bound handbook. In writing about mountain climbing our boy Fred writes that “ effort is the great equalizer….”

I’ve never climbed a mountain so I can’t attest to his accuracy there but I can tell you it’s true for runners. Effort and exhaustion will bring you to your most common human qualities quicker than anything I’ve ever experienced. I have hugged people I don’t know, gotten hugs from people I don’t like, laughed and cried with complete strangers all in the service of the overwhelming emotions brought on by complete and utter exhaustion.

It’s difficult to explain to my non-running friends [yes, I have a few but not many] that I have run for years with some people and still haven’t the faintest idea where they live, what they do for a living, what their education is, or their economic situation. I don’t know because – to be honest – I don’t care.

I don’t care if they’re twice as smart or make twice as much money or live in a house 5 times the size of my apartment. What they do has nothing at all to do with who they are to me. And I’d like to think that for my closest running friends, what I do has nothing to do with what I am to them.

I am, they are, and we are together, running buddies. We see each other at our best and at our worst. We share the parts of ourselves that we could only share with someone who we truly believe understands. We can be honest, we can be open, because we know that they have, or will, feel just what we’re feeling. It’s just a matter of time.

When I’m home I often run the one of the training programs of Chicago Endurance Sports. Their participants run the gamut from new runners to Boston qualifiers so it’s easy enough for me to find my place. In the back!

If I’m introduced at all I’m usually only introduced as a “guest coach”. There are some who figure it out, but there are far more who just accept that fact that I seem to know a little more than they do and so their happy to have me there for the day.

Over the years there have been small groups of the CES runners that have formed the kind of friendships that it seems only runners can have. It’s the kind of friendship that permits 8 of you to walk hot and sweaty into a nice restaurant on Sunday morning after a long run and look with righteous indignation at those other diners who are simply trying to eat their breakfast in peace.

It’s the kind of friendship that allows you to get beyond the obvious, to go past age, gender, ethnicity, social status, and all of the initial criteria we normally use to judge people and just accept them as foul smelling, loud talking runners that they are. It’s the kind of friendship that bonds people of vastly different backgrounds into a group known as “the runners”.

I’ve even experienced this bonding phenomenon while running on a treadmill. The gym in which I train has individual television screens attached to the front of each treadmill. It’s not uncommon to see 6 or 8 people running along on the treadmill all watching the same show. We probably wouldn’t sit down together and watch television, but somehow the act of running gives us permission to share the moment.

There may be other sports where this is true, but I don’t think it’s the same. I’ve ridden with other bicyclist and while it’s fun to be in a group they all seem to be caught up in their own ride. Even when we’re riding at the same speed there’s the differences in cadence and equipment that separates us.

In a world that is quickly becoming so fast-paced that multi-tasking is a way of life we, as runners, have somehow managed to find a way to enjoy an activity, to do something good for our heads, bodies, and spirits, and to have social interaction. It’s a pretty efficient use of time and energy if you look at it that way.

It may even be why today’s runners are deciding to run more slowly. They may simply want to go at a pace slow enough that they can talk to each other. For this generation pounding out 8 miles while gasping for breath doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense because it would deprive them of one of the most important reasons they run: the ability to connect with at least one other person.

By the way, Nietzsche and that “God is Dead” controversy is more complicated than it seems on the surface. It really had more to do with the power of the human spirit than some theological death sentence. Come out for a run with me sometime, we’ll talk all about it.

Waddle on, friends.

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