A column by David McNeill – Runner’s Tribe

Netflix and Chill. While it’s still a relatively recent phenomenon to the rest of the world, it’s been the old adage of serious runners for as long as running has been a professional sport. Perhaps not always Netflix, and perhaps not the same connotation of the word “chill” as others make of it’s meaning, but nonetheless an excuse to avoid the effort and fatigue associated with leaving the couch to engage in life outside of running. It is but one of the characteristics of a serious (or not so serious) runner that has the capacity to impact one’s relationships with others.

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For the hobby jogger, weekend warrior, and serious athlete, there are many elements of life outside of running that are at least in part affected by running. And for the friend, family member, or significant other who shares in a runner’s life, the all-encompassing impact of running can become a source of resentment, with the resentment going both ways. I’ve nearly seen out my 20s now – a time when relationships around me have formed, solidified, broken apart, and then been sought in others. I’ve seen many a runner and non-runner torn apart by both selfishness and misunderstanding. I’ve guiltily watched on as fellow runners have abandoned running; bowing to the social pressures imposed by family to focus on more serious pursuits (I say guiltily, as I’ve been fortunate to never have that pressure from my own family). Common themes tend to characterise the misunderstanding that can brew between runners and non-runners. But it is rare that blame lies exclusively with one side.

Given the common themes, how is it possible for runners and non-runners to level with each other and find balance in each other’s peculiarities? Or should runner’s resort to confiding only in runners, and should non-runners ward off being drawn into the self-fulfilling, often one-dimensional runner’s life? Certainly, it can be done. And how it is done may just make you a better runner, or a better non-runner!

Most runners will be familiar with three common themes from which tension and misunderstanding tend to develop. The first is that running is a waste of time – that the time devoted to running could be better spent working towards a more prestigious and lucrative career, and making a difference in the world. However, such a view of running and the interpretation of success and societal contribution fails to recognise the role that running can play in bringing the best out of a person. For many runners, running and that person’s happiness and their ability to contribute meaningfully to society are inextricably linked. Wishing a life on a runner that doesn’t involve running may just zap the life out of that person. It may destroy the qualities valued most in that runner in the first place. Without running, many runner’s capacity to be valuable and meaningful members of society may be diminished. For the non-runner, it is important to respect the role that running can play in defining character – character that defines their ability to be thoughtful and meaningful members of society. And character that forms the basis for any love and respect you have, or have developed for that runner.

The second is that running never stops; that even when not running, runners are more concerned with recovery than social engagement. But to be more concerned with recovery than with social engagement is to dismiss the value that social engagement can bring to the mental well-being that successful running relies on. When competitive running becomes a source from which happiness and fulfilment is sought, it becomes easy to overthink and overanalyse training, which can negatively impact the mental approach to subsequent training – essentially putting yourself at risk of psyching yourself out. Social engagement – although perhaps not always in the best physical interests of recovery – can offer a great deal more to the mental well-being of a runner than another boring night in front of the TV. The capacity for mental growth is far greater when occasionally, we set aside running, stop thinking about it, and engage in the lives of our non-running friends and family.

The third is that running is selfish; that it is a completely self-fulfilling endeavour that does nothing for the betterment of society. In and of it’s own accord, this is true. But it is because of this that running offers the possibility of developing deep and profound gratitude, capable of infiltrating so many other aspects of life. From the self-fulfilling endeavour that is running comes a plethora of opportunities to share gratitude with the rest of the world. The ability to run long distances in a short period of time is an amazing gift that very few people get to enjoy. Running offers the opportunity to see and experience and be close to the profoundly beautiful natural world. I have run in some of the most amazing places, and run across some of the most exhilarating natural landscapes. And all along the way, I have had support from an incredibly special collection of friends, family, and supporters. People who I inspire, and likewise, who inspire me. Taking the time to absorb these realities breeds gratitude. And gratitude tends to be contagious, and so begins to infiltrate other aspects of life, making it possible to seek meaning in so much more than the run. People like Eloise Wellings, Wesley Korir, and the Halls (Ryan and Sarah) epitomise the capacity that running has to make you the exact opposite of selfish: humble, grateful, and caring. There is a widely held belief that to be a successful runner, one has to be a little selfish. But perhaps equally true is that to be successful, one has to be a great deal more selfless than selfish.

Eloise Wellings: Photo by Geoff Gill for RT
Eloise Wellings: Photo by Geoff Gill for RT

In essence, the relationship between runner and non-runner might be characterised by the old adage, “give a little, take a little.” And while it might be tempting to call this compromise, in reality, when we accept each others’ place in the world, what we thought was compromise is in fact the very thing that makes us a better runner, or a better non-runner; when we share in each other’s strengths, and gratefully recognise the contributions that we can make to each others’ lives. So, next time you make friends with a runner or non-runner, don’t be too quick to judge, and imagine the possibilities – rather than the limitations – in our differences!

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1 COMMENT

  1. Good article. I have a personal rule: I don’t talk about running with my family and friends that are non-runners. They honestly don’t care at worst or won’t understand at best. Happy New Year!

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