This question “Why do you run? Really?” came up twice in conversation not too long ago. Once was from a very good running buddy in a philosophical conversation during one of our not-so-slow runs, and the second time was that night, from my wife, who has known me for the last 33 years.
My go-to answer for this question, with apologies to Lester Burnham, has always the same: “I want to look good naked!”
That’s it. I don’t get the runner’s high that other people describe. I don’t love stressing my body to the point of breaking, and I don’t relish the pain that my joints and bones feel both during a hard workout and after. I don’t enjoy being out of breath, and sweaty, and hot, or cold, or really any feeling of misery. That’s not why I do it.
I don’t run for the clarity that many runners say they experience during long runs. I don’t have any moments of great revelation and I tend to be a person that is not very comfortable being left alone with my thoughts, so I almost always wear ear buds and carry a phone. Being alone is fine. Being completely isolated without external stimulation is maddening to me.
I run because I like the results of running, not because I like the act of running.
I like to run, because in my mind, I look better naked as a result of running. Few people aside from my wife, my doctor, and the occasional unfortunate soul who happens to glance into my bathroom window at the exactly wrong time, will never actually see that part, but I don’t do it for anyone else. I do it for me.
I do it for the skinny-fat me in High School that was barely over four feet tall but had literally rolls of fat from a terrible diet. I do it for the me in his twenties who blew so much physical potential. I do it for the me in my thirties who just didn’t care (or had some wicked case of body dysmorphic disorder) and slowly added weight until my BMI was considered obese. But mostly I do it for the future me. I do it for the me as a father showing my adult children that they can do it too. I do it for me as a future grandfather who can go out and play with his grand kids (assuming kids still play outside at that point) and I do it as the future husband who’s just trying to stay out of the medical care gauntlet that follows bad habits and not winning the genetic lottery.
Above all, I run for the way it makes me feel when I’m not running. I concede this might be vanity in its purest form. I want to be better. I want to be faster. I want to last longer than everyone else. I want that validation that pushing myself to the edge is having an effect. Oddly enough, staring at myself naked in the bathroom mirror gives me that drive.
I don’t think I’m alone in this.