Originally published in Runner’s World, August 2000
The Inner Penguin
I’m a 90’s guy. Or at least I was. That all seems so… “20th Century” now. I’m not ready to call myself a “zero” guy, but I’ll bet there are others that might. I’m in touch with my feminine side, I know all about male bounding, and I am way too in touch with my inner child. But, I am just beginning to learn how to be in touch with my inner Penguin.
I didn’t even know that there WAS an inner penguin at first. I thought that being a penguin was about being satisfied with what I had, about finding the joy in the movement of running and the moment of running. I thought that being a penguin was looking past other’s expectations and getting to the truth about ourselves. I thought that being a penguin was about being slow.
Not long ago a 30 minute-ish 10K runner introduced himself to me as a Penguin. I was astonished. How could this be? He had talent, he had skill, and he had the body of an elite runner. How could HE be a penguin? I thought he was just being kind so I told him that he must be wrong.
“No” he said smiling. “I don’t run like a penguin, but I’m in touch with my inner Penguin.” He went on to say that he struggled against his limitations just like I did. He was honest enough to tell me of his frustrations as he tried to break through the 35-minute barrier, and then 34 and 33. He was talking about his training, but he was telling me about himself.
He explained that there were days when he would just cruise through a run at about a 6:30 pace and enjoy the sights and sounds and smells of the day. That, he said, was his inner penguin at work. I explained that I too often cruised through runs, but at something like a 12 minute pace. That, I told him, was my inner penguin at work, and my outer penguin at play.
As we laughed I began to understand that we were talking about the same phenomenon. We were both talking about releasing ourselves from the pressures of training, from the demands of travel and schedules, and were allowing ourselves to simply enjoy the most fundamental component of being a runner. Running.
I learned again that I have more in common with a 6-minute miler than with someone who has never tasted their own sweat. I learned that I have more in common with a sub 3-hour marathoner than with someone who has never felt the flush of achievement or the ache of failure. I learned that it is mostly about what goes on inside of our souls that unites as runners… and as penguins.
Since then I’ve come to view those in front of me somewhat differently. I no longer believe that their speed relative to mine is any reason to deny them the joy of being a penguin. I see now that it is possible to improve one’s speed, to increase one’s distance, and not lose sight of the essential pleasure of running.
That insight has caused me to rethink some of my own goals and aspirations. I have always feared reaching for my own running potential because I thought it would mean losing the pleasure. I have been frightened to let go of my comfort to find the real limits of my body and mind. I thought it would mean that I was no longer a penguin.
But, I now see that being a penguin is more about what’s inside that out, more about what I feel than what I accomplish, and more about what a can do than what I can’t. Being a penguin isn’t about what someone does, but about why someone does it.
Waddle on, friends.