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Why are we here?

Why are we here?

This question has tormented deep thinkers, as well as bad navigators, throughout the ages. If you find yourself on the Around the Bend Blog, you might be asking yourself a variation on the same question: Why am I here? How did I get here? Or more poignantly – who is this random guy trying to tell me about running? It’s a fair question, so here’s my best attempt at an answer.

A little bit about your dear author

I was never a particularly fast runner, nor can it be said that I squeezed every bit of talent out of myself to reach my peak potential. And it’s not for any pure or saintly reason, like I cared more about the joy of running than competing. It’s actually the opposite. I ran for the wrong reasons, and I never stacked more than two years of consistent training at a time because of it. I had something to prove and unintentionally beat myself down to do it.

I won my first ever race (in middle school against the smallest teams in the smallest state). I was told I had a beautiful stride by people who knew nothing about running mechanics, and during the pre-season of my freshman year of high school was compared to the fastest kid on the team. I had a bright future, I was told. So I wanted to put in the work to earn it, regardless of what anyone said. I used to think I was cursed with an injury prone body, or was the victim of bad coaching, but the truth is I didn’t listen to the good advice my high school coach gave me. I ran too much, too fast and without consistency. I wasn’t cursed with a bad body or bad advice, but rather with early success and stubborn pride.

These mistakes continued into young adulthood, even after I’d thought I’d learned – even as I was already preaching this philosophy to the young athletes under my tutelage. It’s easy to play the wise sage of delayed gratification and the process when you’re out of shape and slow. But with each minor taste of speed or success, the ego would start drowning out reason, and the tunnel vision would train itself on the peak of that training block instead of the peak of my physical prime, or even the goal of running for a lifetime, ultimately grinding my legs into dust.

I think many of you can probably relate. Most probably learned their lesson faster than I did. You probably had good coaches or knowledgeable parents and actually listened to them. You probably had more fun.

But a lot of you probably didn’t, and that’s why we are here.

The hard truth

I have always loved the experience of running – the feeling of weightlessness, bounding effortlessly off the earth like a man on the moon (or maybe Mars), the preternatural focus as your blood begins to boil with hydrogen and you command your brain to ignore all warning signals and just go faster! I guess I just loved the feeling of adulation even more.

The truth is, aside from the handful of athletes who have the natural talent to become gold medalists, no number of PRs, local 5k triumphs, regional championships, age-group records, national records and yes, even gold medals, are going to impress most people. It’s just running, they’ll say. You’ve either got it or you don’t. The average person doesn’t comprehend how much work goes into reaching your full potential – the years of building your aerobic engine and fine tuning your explosive speed. Nor should they. Ours is an individual pursuit, only scaffolded by community. This is why the goal always should be to become the strongest, healthiest human striding on two feet we can be, so we can enjoy each run for decades to come, not just the few months that we are in the shape of our lives. I knew this on an intellectual level from a young age, but it took multiple cycles of meteoric rise and inevitable injury for me to actually institute this lesson in my personal practice.

Why coach?

I got into coaching to spread this philosophy in the hope of saving other athletes from a similar fate to my own. Lots of coaches out there share this view. One of the good ones, quoted in Born to Run 2 , summarizes it well with her opinion on the DNF vs. DFL debate: “If [you’re pushing through serious dysfunctional pain just to finish a race] because you’ve got something to prove, then it’s only a matter of time before you get injured for real or quit for good.” She teaches the 3-day rule: “If it’s gonna knock you out of training for 3-days, then call it a day.” Runners find it difficult to stop and walk it in, whether it be during a race or a workout. A coach’s job is to help develop enough confidence and resilience in an athlete so they can both distinguish between dysfunctional pain and the discomfort of hard work, as well as shut it down if necessary once they make that distinction.

However, many coaches out there will mindlessly hammer their athletes with the goal of finding a transcendent talent to propel their careers. This, of course, is what many athletes want, so it seems like a win-win, they tell themselves. The guiltiest of all are often self-coaches, for the reasons detailed above.

The role of a good coach is to tell the ambitious athlete “No!” – to act as a governor on their rapacious need for speed – to cultivate the deep strength and stability required to train harder and ultimately get faster in a way that doesn’t relegate the remainder of their running life to repeated injury cycles and eventual burnout. This is the harder path, because it requires reasoning and educating and inspiring long term thinking. Anyone can put together a training plan that squeezes every last ounce of speed out of an athlete over a three month or even three year period. The harder thing is to cultivate the engine and skillsets that will serve that athlete for a lifetime.

The TLDR: why are we here?

The Around the Bend Blog will be a home for advice on nutrition, recovery, injury prevention and training structure, as well as content featuring local running news, routes, trails and other adventures. We are here to become healthier, stronger, and more joyful lifelong runners, and I hope you will join us on the journey.

As they say: share, comment and subscribe.

See you on the run!


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