Same River Twice

By November 3, 2022 Personal No Comments

August 2006

Same River Twice: 

There’s an old saying – maybe it’s an adage – no, I think it’s a saying – ANYWAY – whatever it is it says that you can never put your foot in the same river twice. Rivers are alive, flowing, and in constant motion. The river that was there a moment ago is long gone.

The same is true for music, art, movies and virtually everything else in our lives. We can never hear the same song twice or see the same piece of art twice. What we bring to a second or third or hundredth listening of a piece of music is always different than the time before. We bring memories, feelings, and sensations. And the affect is cumulative.

Why is it then, as runners, we think we can run the same route twice? Why is it that we think we can run the same race twice? And why is it that we think that the comparisons between the same distance on different courses on different days has any validity?

You know what I’m talking about. I’ve done it, and I’m sure you have too. We run our favorite route one day, then run it again later and either beat ourselves up because we’re a few minutes [or seconds] slower than the previous time, or, we congratulate ourselves because we are a few minutes [or seconds] faster. 

I hear it at events. Someone will say “I ran this race last year 5 minutes slower than this year” as if it actually means that they are better this year than last year. Worse, I’ll talk to someone who is all down on themselves because they ran the race slower than last year.

You can’t run the same race twice. You can’t possibly recreate the exact circumstances on the day. You can have the same weather, the same people around you, the same amount of sleep, or food. You can’t be sure that you’ll get exactly the amount of water or sports drink. You just can’t.

You can’t have the exact same training season twice. Your good days and bad days will have shifted. You’ll get in more miles, or less miles, you’ll do more speed work, or less, and you’ll show up at the starting line more – or less well – prepared than the year before. 

And you for sure can’t avoid having got a year older. 

It’s not that some relativity is a bad thing. It isn’t. It’s fun to compare times. It’s fun to look at where you’ve been and where you are and try to draw some conclusions about your training, your desire, or your willingness to push. 

But, it’s all got to be in the context of the truth that every foot strike carries you forward. Every breath you take changes you in some say. Every time you put on your running shoes you are a different person than the day before. 

And that, it seems to me, is the good news. It means that tomorrow, or a year from now; you’ll have the chance to meet the runner that you’ve become. And the best news is that you have a fair amount of control in deciding who that runner – who that person – is going to be.

Is the new you going to be faster than you are today? He will be if speed is a priority. He will be if your training focuses on getting faster. There’s no telling how much faster, but faster just the same.

Is the new you going to be able to run farther than you can run today? He will be if distance is a priority. He will be if you gradually and cautiously increase your weekly distance. He will be if you start making your long runs just a little longer week after week.

Is the new you going to be injured? Is the new you going to be recovering from an injury? For the most part, at least as far as the running you is concerned, you can control that too. Train too hard, run too fast or too far, and you can almost be guaranteed that the new you won’t be as good as the current you.

For me looking back doesn’t help much. Knowing where I was and where I’ve been isn’t nearly as helpful as knowing where I am and where I’m trying to go. And that would make a pretty good adage!

Waddle on, friends.

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