To be competitive, runners push themselves into discomfort and pain, forcing their bodies to the limits of what they can do. They’re experts at making themselves miserable. So why do they do it?
By Sarra Gutknecht
When I hear the word ‘running,’ the first words that come to my mind are physical and mental torture, anxiety, and hatred. I think of all the times where running has broken me down and caused immense pain. I think of all the times where I felt like collapsing, like I couldn’t go on, but I had to. I think of the almost unbearable anxiety before races. A common question that people ask me is, “Why do you run if you hate it so much?” The thing is, I find myself asking that question too. Everyday.
I’ve been running for what seems like forever. In elementary school I loved running and everything about it. I didn’t focus on how it made me tired or that my legs would occasionally hurt; I focused on the way it made me feel, which was extremely happy. It was always something my parents allowed me to do without question, and I loved that aspect of it. Even at a young age, it gave me an escape from my parent’s divorce, my “mean” brothers, and anything that had been bothering me.
I remember going home after the meet and saying to my dad, “I’m never doing that again.” I was wrong.
When I really became a competitive runner was in fifth grade. My teacher, Mr. Steinberg, is to blame for that. He would always make us run around Wilson Park before lunch to prepare for the famous fifth-grade track meet at the end of the year. I, being of competitive nature, always felt the need to beat all the other kids, so I never slacked off during our runs. Yes, I was that kid.
Anyway, the day of the fifth-grade tack meet rapidly approached. I ran an 800 and in the 4×400 meter relay. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was only the first of countless times that I would be running competitively. It was the spark that ignited my hatred for running. I remember going home after the meet and saying to my dad, “I’m never doing that again.” I was wrong. I continued my running career through middle school. Every year of middle school track, I started to lose my love for it a little bit more. Every year I started to think more about the pain and less about how it could be an escape from everything. I started to get overly nervous for my races and I started to dread practice. It got to the point of counting down the days until the season was over. But, underneath all this negativity associated with running, there was still a little part of me that loved it. Still, I remember telling myself during practices in eighth grade, “I’m not doing this in high school. I’m finishing out this year and then I’m done. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s over after this.”
I was wrong again. I didn’t quit running after middle school. I got pulled up to the high school team at the end of eighth grade and got sucked into running in high school. Great. So why did I continue to run when I promised myself multiple times that I wouldn’t put myself through it anymore? I mean, the older I got, the less enjoyment I found in it. Everything about it flat out sucked. I hated it 99.99% of the time. Yet it was that .01% of love for it that kept me going. I also felt like I had to. To this day I feel a pressure to continue with it. It’s who I am, it’s who I’ve always been. It’s how people identify me. So needless to say, I put some pressure on myself to do it. But other than pressure from myself, I felt some pressure from my parents to continue to run. When I would come home from practice and ask them why I still ran they would say, “Sarra, you love running! It makes you happy!” Well, easy for them to say. They weren’t the ones having to endure the pain of 600 meter repeats.
I decided something had to change, or I was going to be miserable for the rest of high school.
Throughout my freshman, sophomore, and the beginning of junior year, my hatred for running increased even more. I didn’t even think it was possible to hate it more than I already did, but it was. That .01% of love I had for it turned into .00001%. I found no enjoyment from it at all. The anxiety over running got horrible. I’d have dreams about the start of a race and wake up sweating. I’d be in tears the night before a meet because I got so nervous. I wouldn’t be able to eat on race day because I already felt nauseous. Just thinking about running made me anxious. When I would hear the work out for the day, I instantly hated myself for picking running as one of my sports.
One night after the cross-country season had ended my junior year, I remember lying in bed thinking about how much my view on running had changed. I got mad at myself for letting something I used to love so much become something that haunted me. The memories of all the good times running had brought me came back, and I started to miss the days when I had a passion and a love for it. That night, I decided something had to change, or I was going to be miserable for the rest of high school. So, instead of falling deeper into hate with the sport, like I had been for the past few years, I decided to try to regain my love for it, to determine why I do it and why I can’t seem to stop doing it. What keeps drawing me to it?
With the world being so unpredictable and confusing, it’s nice to have something that will always be the same.
Well, one thing about running that has always drawn me to it is its simplicity. It doesn’t get much simpler than running. You don’t need a ball or a fancy court to run. All you have to do is put on your running shoes and you can go wherever. Also, if there’s one thing that you can count on in this world, it’s that running is going to make you tired. There’s no question about it. With the world being so unpredictable and confusing, it’s nice to have something that will always be the same.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, running has always been my escape. It doesn’t matter if it’s school, relationships, or family problems, if something is going on I can run and everything disappears for a while. (I guess you could say I run away from my problems.) No one can bother me, unless they want to put themselves through the torture of running with me. It’s like a break from my actual life.
Other than being simple and something that I can always count on, running brings me a sense of accomplishment that nothing else can. When I cross the finish line after a race, exhausted and wanting to cry, it somehow makes me happy. The satisfaction of finishing something so incredibly hard is indescribable. When my times start to drop and I feel myself getting stronger, it makes me feel like I can take on the world for a few moments.
Even though a huge part of me hates running, I can’t see myself without it. It’s always been a part of me. Although my original love for the sport may have disappeared, I now love it in a new, more intense, and slightly messed up way. The pain that makes me hate running so much also makes me fall in love with it more and more each time. That’s why I run.
Photo: 2012 IMT Des Moines Marathon by Phil Roeder on Flickr