Are we ever happy?

Finisher. Photo by Paul Petch.

Finisher. Photo by Paul Petch.

Is this really the case as runners? Are we ever happy with our physical achievements? Looking at most of our performances objectively, there is in all honesty not much more we can do on the day.

Sure there are always injuries, niggles, and ‘other’ problems and generally not feeling ‘right’ but do we openly admit that running is in all reality somewhat of a gamble? That we can’t ‘win them all’ just like life itself. What about saying this in an upbeat and positive way? Try as we must, at the end of the day running is in essence a random event.

“How did you go?” I ask a runner as they sit shaded under a tree having just finished a marathon race.

“It did not go to plan” they reply half in tears, distracted by their GPS and pointing to the numbers on the face. “I’ve not trained enough and started off well, but struggled at about 35KM.”

Then I turn to another runner who looks somewhat more relaxed and enjoying the sunshine.

“You look fresh! A good run?” I ask.

“Why do you want to talk to me? I’m just an average runner!” she says. “Yeah it was ok I suppose. Not a PB though.” The conversation ends there.

I look over at my friend and shrug. “We are never happy, are we?” I mumble. But today these runners started, which most don’t, and ran a distance. Some in all reality a long distance. Should this not be the real focus? Starting. Moving. Doing something?

Are we racing our inner voices that are never satisfied?

It seems that no matter how well we do, there’s something about many of us who run for “fun” that stops us from being satisfied with our efforts. It seems that so many runners seem to be very insecure about their abilities. It’s as if every milestone measured by time and distance leads to post run and event analysis : Where we went wrong, what we wish we had avoided, how we should have done better. It all seems rather negative.

What about this: How far we have come, what lessons have been learnt on the way, how all experiences running related are just that- experiences. The people we meet. The act of starting.

Is this inability to be happy with running exclusive to the professionals? Well, maybe once upon a time, but with so much digital comparativeness via Strava, Nike and others- amateur runners are now racing day in day out. Racing themselves and cold hard numbers. Are we racing our inner voices that are never satisfied? If anything, the professionals are expected to be less likely to be pleased, as no matter how incredible their achievements seem to the rest of us, it is their ‘job’ to always do better. Do better at all costs mostly.

I ran a half marathon recently being the longest distance in a year post knee surgery. My intention was to finish- walk and run- with no time goal. I was stoked to have run 95% of it at full pace with the technical trails being smashed! I felt like I had got back some form missing for a few years. It was amazing. But not for long. Soon though- the familiar misgivings came to my mind. I could have done better. If this. If that. If  I had pushed a bit harder on that flat stretches between the climbs, I might have finished five minutes faster than the runners I was chasing.

It was at this point I literally told these thoughts to move on. I had run 23KM at pace. I felt strong. Pain free. Without to much damage to energy stores. That weekend I also lived life with friends and Family. Laughed. Found balance. Celebrated purpose. I was so grateful to have been out there at such a great event, with my friends and my love ones. Running enabled this. Not times. Not competing. Not some damn GPS. Yet it was still a gauge to the here and now- how far i’ve come post injury- and how far I have to go if I want to keep running niggle free. It’s the reality of running.

Running has given me an awareness that wasn’t there before – a personal belief in the importance of moving forward, setting goals and working towards them. Is it this reality of running and goal setting that breeds in our minds we will never fully be satisfied, even when things go right? Running will alway be goal and target driven and will have the success or failure mentality. Is it then part of the process that motivates so many runners? Is this what running means to the majority? If so is it true that competitiveness is always going to be part of the process. Always?

Running enabled this. Not times. Not competing. Not some damn GPS.

Is it the act of avoiding success that steers us away from complacency as a motivator? Maybe it is, yet I feel that celebrating success when due is an important part of the process too. I’m not talking about boasting via Facebook, mocking others who are racing, or boasting. Rather the awareness of how like life running is all about right now. A gift. A celebration of something bigger than times, numbers and comparisons to others. An awareness that it could end at anytime. Running does not have to be ‘win or lose’ rather  a vessel for ‘experiences’ with ‘lessons’, ‘people’ ‘places’ and ‘moments’. If a goal of a distance is achieved then celebrate it as part of the whole ‘experience.’

But. Let’s not kid ourselves either that the need to compare, look at what ‘was’ and ‘will be’ is vital for growth and motivation. Samuel Beckett once said that “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

To the post-race whinging from bodies laid out on the ground, it may seem a complete mystery why we run at all if it doesn’t make us happy. But behind these personal goals, lies joy to be found in the life as a runner as well as the final outcomes. Some more than others fixate on the negatives, while others not so much. Either way it’s hard to ignore that chasing perfection in what ever form that is- for a fleeting moment on a park run, or a metal disk around your neck connected to numbers. It is OK because we started.

Anyway, as we all know there’s always the ‘next time right?’

Paul Petch
Director of Good People Run, pro photographer, tutor and a recovering 'runaholic'. Based in Auckland City, my work is at
Paul Petch

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