Running is one of those activities that tends to be polarizing. When running comes up in conversation, you’ll notice that people often fall into one of two camps:
1. The ‘Hell yes I love it’ camp
2. The ‘I could never, it’s boring and repetitive’ camp
Other examples of polarizing activities/lifestyles include rock climbing, motorcycling, kitesurfing, and entrepreneurship. The reactions will differ, but the gist of it remains: it’s a love it or hate it kind of deal.
I believe that the difference between a polarizing thing like running and a less provoking activity like cooking is twofold. First, the activity must have a high real or perceived barrier to entry. Second, the activity must be highly emotionally evocative to partakers.
In running, the real barrier is low: simply strap on a pair of shoes and head out the door. The perceived barrier, however, is high. To non-runners, the very idea of voluntarily pounding the pavement for a prolonged period of time is incomprehensible.
“Why,” I’ve heard people remark, “would you ever do that?”
In 2017, I ran roughly 500 miles. This is why.
Running is exploratory. I’m able to see my surroundings in a new light. Unfamiliar streets become familiar over time, mapped in my mind through days and weeks of tracing their paths. It’s meditative. Thoughts fall away while I’m running, and what remains is a pure and euphoric kind of presentness. I’m able to notice details around me at heightened detail. I still remember the scent in the air in late spring, and the way the sun glints through a thick of leaves at sunset.
Finally, there’s a certain joy in experiencing process and growth in all things we undertake. Running gives me a pleasantly direct way of channeling these qualities.
Haruki Murakami describes his emotional pull towards running marathons:
Whether it’s good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what’s most important is what you can’t see but can feel in your heart. To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient acts. But even activities that appear fruitless don’t necessarily end up so. That’s the feeling I have, as someone who’s felt this, who’s experienced it.
Why this matters
My point isn’t that you should pick up your runners and hit the pavement. My point is that you should gravitate towards polarizing activities.
Polarizing activities are incomprehensible to outsiders. But I believe that of all the things we could spend our time doing, they’re among the most fulfilling. The flip side of this is by immediately rejecting these things due to their perceived barriers, we never allow ourselves to experience their incredible worlds.
For something as banal as running or as reckless as motorcycling to take hold in the hearts of so many, there must be some innate quality in these acts that is emotionally gripping.
Let yourself partake in the banal, incomprehensible, and divisive.