Things I Learned From Running #1: Mediocrity

When I took up running three years ago I wasn’t attempting to be good at it. I would run as a hobby and just sort of do it. I guess in the back of my mind I expected to become better at it, and maybe even really good at it, just because if you do something a lot you get better at it. I was a new and naive runner, and I thought that practice makes perfect.

I had signed up for my first 5k run ever, and was browsing through the past race times form the race from previous year. The course record was around 17 minutes? Or maybe even 15 minutes. Either way, it was down there somewhere. This translates out to around a 5 or 6 minutes mile pace: yeah, down there. For you metric people, I’m sorry, I know. The imperial system is shit. This 5 or 6 minute per mile pace might not sound like much to the non-runner as there really is no reference point. And to myself years ago, this didn’t sound like much of an issue either; I didn’t really know what sort of pace I ran because I’d just go run. First place was that time, so maybe if I did a 5k in 20 minutes that’d be okay.

I was curious and set out to discover about what my pace was. I went to the bike path, which had markers every eighth-mile. Whatever time I could do in an eighth, I could just multiply it by eight and that would be my rough mile pace. I set set my timer, bounded off running, ran faster than usual but not too fast, and checked my time as I neared the first marker. 1 minute. It didn’t take much effort even with as tired as I was to realize what that meant: an 8 minute mile. A 24 minute 3 miles. A 25ish minute 5k. I was going to suck. It was a mediocre pace.

Now a 25 minute 5k isn’t bad in the big picture of it. Walking this distance would probably take 50 to 60 minutes, and a 10 minute mile pace would be 31 minutes, so 25 wasn’t bad. And maybe with hard work I could improve greatly on that pace?

That year I ran my 5k in 23:49. The next year I ran a 5k in 22:30. And this year I ran one in 22:19. I’m sure you can see where this is going: I’m getting better, but ever so slightly better each year. There are no large jumps of three or four minutes and I know I’ll never be in the mid-teens when it comes to a 5k time. Physically my body isn’t built that way. There is a limit to running and it’s determined by genetics and I’m near what is possible. You can get better up to a point, but then you need to go back in time and have new parents.

What Did I Learn From This?

I’ve ran a bunch of races of varying distances since that first 5k, and each tell me a lesson over and over again: I’m pretty mediocre. Since I like data and math, I like to analyze exactly how I do in these races. I do okay, meaning that I’m in the top 10-20% of all the runners. Accounting for just males, I’m in the top 30%. Age group puts me in the top 20% but this varies based on how small the sample sizes are in these races. Anyways, I don’t want to get bogged down in data but to show that, fairly regularly, I finish in certain parts of the field. I always look ahead, to the people that beat me, and get slightly upset. No matter what I do, I’ll never be able to keep pace with them; they’re on a whole new level than I am on. Sometimes it undermines your will to actually run and compete. Why run? You’re not an olympic athlete and never will be.

Realizing you suck is a crummy thing. I don’t think anyone should feel happy that they suck. But there is a silver lining to this. By knowing you’re not that good, you can take a little pressure off yourself to be the best. It’s okay to just be okay. With running, that can be taken to mean that you shouldn’t run to be good, but run because you actually enjoy it. By realizing you suck, you stop being so hard on yourself and can take it easy. You can enjoy the scenery or the weather when you run, and you can be at peace. It’s nice in a way. The same goes for any other hobby: art, music, writing, as well as running. Once you quit being so hard on yourself, you are free to actually enjoy you pursuits.

The nice thing about mediocrity is that you’re probably so mediocre that you’re not even notable by being the worst! This automatically makes you not suck too much; you don’t finish last and there is always someone behind you. This is nice because you don’t have to be too hard on yourself: you’re not the shittiest person ever. You can still take pride in being a decent runner and don’t have to give the sport, or hobby, up all together. Most people, just by what the definition of most actually means, are normal and average. If you consider the middle 75% the normal field, you’d only have 25% of people as the outliers: most are normal by how the word is defined. You won’t be the ultra-best at something, but this also means you’re likely to not be the worst at it either. Being mediocre means you can blend in with things and be comfy. You don’t suck, and you aren’t the best.



Why is Running even a Thing?

The human creature is a lazy thing. Nearly every invention in the history of humanity has had a singular goal to simply things and make life easier on us. It used to be cold at night, but then there was fire to keep us warm. There was this thing called the wheel that made carrying and hauling things a whole lot easier. It was a pain in the ass to go hunting and gathering for food so we made farms and raised our own plants and animals. Eventually we made these things called cars, and bicycles, and various other powered and wheeled things that make getting around a lot easier. People drive around parking lots for ten or twenty minutes trying to be able to not walk as far to the store: we’re that lazy. The internet has taken this idea to a whole new level. Humans are very good at being lazy and coming up with genius ways to get out of doing work. You can’t really blame us: work sucks.

It seems strange that there are certain types of people that actually like to do things the hard way. There is camping, which is basically living like it’s a few hundred years ago (unless you have an RV and are that guy). Instead of driving a car, some people walk. They do this by choice too, and walk even though they don’t actually have to be somewhere. Some even stranger people run. Not because they have to hunt animals, or they’re trying to not be killed by something, and not even because they’re in a hurry. Some people run for fun. I am one of those strange people. I get some sort of joy from traveling the world as quickly as possible using only myself, oxygen, and the food I’ve eaten.

I ask myself this question a lot: “Why exactly am I running?” This question really has prominence when it’s in the 30s (90s Fahrenheit) and humid outside, or it’s in the middle of a snow storm. Running really sucks sometimes, and it’s not frequently that things are magical and offset the shittiness of it. Running typically sucks, but I’ve ran every day for nearly 600 days. That makes no sense. Why?

After a while of being confused, I think I’ve stumbled upon the answer: running can be anything you need it to be. It can act in any aspect that you need it to. It’s almost like a really flexible drug I’d suppose. If you get drunk, you can be relaxed and have an easier time being social at a party, but drinking can’t really make you sit down and focus on a difficult problem at hand that takes concentration. That’s what caffeine excels at. And you wouldn’t pound 6 cups of coffee to relax after a long day at work or to just space out while you fix your car or mow the yard. They just don’t work that way. But running can be whatever the hell you need it to be. It works magically too.

Some runs I go on are the “quiet and peaceful” runs. I keep a slow pace and sometimes listen to music. If I want to have an “invigorating” run, I’ll run quicker. Sometimes I’m super motivated and have a “let’s break my mile record” run, and those suck, but in a good way. If you’re down and depressed, running can help you wallow in your depression or give you some peace of mind and help clear it up, depending on what you want to do. Do you want to admire how beautiful the world is? Then go for a nice run at sunset when the temperature is around 15 (50F). Watch how the sunlight plays on the clouds as the Earth slowly rotates and changes the angle of the light. You’ll be going slow enough to notice the subtle changes too. Sometimes you need to get away, or unwind after work, or relieve some stress before getting your wisdom teeth pulled (true story there), and guess what is perfect for that? You probably know if you’ve read this far: running. I’ve went for all of those runs before as well as countless other categories of runs, and they’re all unique, wonderful, and useful in their own ways.

It seems that the term running is a bit broad to describe what is really going on. You might be physically running, but that’s not all that happening. What’s going on in your mind can be something totally different than other runs you’ve been on. Maybe that is what keeps it exciting and that fact can be overlooked when you think of people who run all the time. Running is work that no one usually has to do, but it puts your mind and yourself in a place where it can be free do what it wants (or needs) to do. If there’s a single reason to cite for me running as much as I do, I think it would have to be that. There are others, but in a way they all seem to flow from this one fact. So now I’m going to go on a “I finally made a new blog post and I want celebrate being productive” sort of run. I’m sure it’ll be a wonderful run too.

An Intro to A Bunch About Running

The Beginning of a ton of Blog Posts about Running

Part of this blog was meant to have dedicated section about running. Running, as you’d think, would probably be a boring topic because, well, all you do is run. It’s not rocket science and there probably shouldn’t be a whole lot to say about it. But since I’ve been running for the past 3 years it’s been surprising to know how wrong that assumption is. Knowledge of all sorts seems to grow out of the sport, and it’s a pretty strange thing too. What running can do to your body and your mind is wonderful. I’d like to elaborate on some of these things in latter posts and will keep them all under the “Running” section (duh).

I’ve been on a running streak for the past 584 days. I don’t even know really why I began. That will take up it’s own post later as it’s too much to get into now and I don’t know the actual answer. My goal at first was a streak of 365 days–a year–and since that’s passed I’ve just kept going. I’ve found no reason to stop. Even on days that I really don’t want to run it isn’t hard to force myself to do a mile, which is my minimum daily requirement. I also run barefoot, and will probably elaborate on that later as well. Being barefoot is a whole other topic, journey, and adventure on its own that gives running something unique that most people don’t even think to experience. I’ve ran about 15 races since my running streak began, and can sometimes pull off a sub 7-minute-mile if I really try and everything “clicks.” My longest run was a 19-mile run although I average maybe 2-4 a day. City streets, bike-paths, and trails are my home, and I like to think I’m flexible on where and when I run. It’s part of the fun.

So now you know that I’m not a pro, I’m not exceptionally fast (although I’m not too slow), and I don’t know jack shit about running shoes. I like to think I’m not really a runner, I’m just a guy who happens to run everyday: a casual runner just like any other duders who happen to run. Sometimes I hate running, sometimes I love it. It’s a very strange relationship I have with traveling places with my feet and legs but I keep doing it everyday.  Hopefully, with my blog posts and adventures, I can give some of the love and hate of running to other people, and maybe even convince a few to take it up on their own. There’s a lot about running to talk about: realizations, life lessons, funny little stories, frustrating things, and even some technical stuff that isn’t all up-in-the-sky philosophical.