Friday, August 8, 2008

Running is NOT a Metaphor

The website for the race said the course was "relatively flat and fast." I guess that was true--in the same way that the Rockies are "relatively flat" compared to the Himalayas. It was a ten-mile race and as I made a turn during mile-five, a white wall loomed up in the road, about a quarter mile ahead--right in the middle of the route. As I got closer it became clear that it was, in fact, not a white wall at all. It was a section of road angling sharply upward with bright sun shining on it, making it look white. I guess it was "relatively flat."

I am fully aware that humans have a built-in predisposition to overestimate the steepness of hills, especially when we are already tired from running. This was proven nicely by a University of Virginia Professor named Dennis Proffitt. Even given this predisposition, the hill I saw looming up before me had to be at least 2oo feet high and at 30 degree pitch.

I told the volunteer who was directing traffic something witty like, "Hills are stupid," and then put my head down and trudged up the alpine incline. To keep my mind occupied I set myself a challenge. I decided to think of a topic I could write about using running as a metaphor. Once I started thinking about running as a metaphor, my mind bubbled over with possibilities.

Getting a degree, writing a short story or a book, being married--all of these are analogous to running a long distance. It is easy enough to match up step-for-step and detail-for-detail how any of these activities, (as well as many others), are like running. There is the idea that you start slow and work your way into shape over many weeks and months. There is the reality that some runs are easier than others--and unpredictably so. There is the truth that any goal worth achieving takes commitment and work.

I got to the top of that particular hill, cursing myself for choosing to come out and run early on a beautiful Sunday morning instead of staying home and enjoying some coffee on the porch while reading the New York Times. I caught my breath and continued running when I came around a curve in the road and saw--you guessed it--another hill.

I laughed out loud. I felt like I was stuck in an Escher drawing. The racecourse was a loop that started at sea level and ended at sea level, yet somehow it went only uphill. It was at that moment that the truth of running hit me full-on: Running is NOT a metaphor. Running is just running and sometimes it stinks.


  1. Hey! Aren't those hills under a nice canopy of trees? I did that race a few years ago and was relieved to finish. It may have been my first race past 5K. Great job!! Congrats also on your other running accomplishments lately. Are you running the New Haven race?

  2. I will be running the 20K. How about you? I have my fingers crossed for coolish weather and long, flat stretches. I love running when there are lots of people and excitement and water stations and bands--it seems to cut down on how far things feel.

  3. hey chris:

    i'm familiar with the old sea legs shuffle. good for you!
    see you at the new haven 20k!