Thursday, March 31, 2011

Running = Punishment (?)

Remember the Jack Daniels talk that I mentioned in my last post?  One thing that he mentioned in his talk, as a side note, really, is that in the US, running is viewed as punishment.  He took a little time to elaborate, pointing out how cross country is a sport often chosen by the weakest girls - those who have tried other sports and were unsuccessful.  (If I remember correctly, he was trying to explain why the high school athletes most prone to injury are female cross country runners - the result of a combination of a strenuous sport and a weak body).

I've returned to this statement several times in the past week.  I can relate to the story Coach Daniels told about girls choosing to run cross country.  My beginnings as a runner came during my junior year of high school.  I played softball in the spring for several years, but wasn't given many opportunities to play because I really wasn't very good.  Softball required some coordination, and coordination definitely isn't one of my strengths.  And neither was confidence.  When I was up to bat, or standing in the outfield, positioning myself to catch a fly ball, I really didn't believe that I could make the hit or the catch.  Anyway, I figured that I would try track and field.  After all, anyone can find some track or field event where they can excel, right?  Well, I was pretty weak, and it did take me a very long time before I saw much success with running.  Maybe, subconsciously, I did see this as a fitting punishment for me, as one who was unsuccessful at other sports.

My first response to Coach Daniels' statement was to disagree and to think of all of the reasons that I love to run.  But as I've spent some more time analyzing my running - my motivation, my habits - I've started to wonder if what he said is actually true for me too.

I think back over the past week, and it's been really heavy.  I've had all of the typical commitments with my family, and housework, and volunteer activities.  And night meetings and work and phone calls.  But on top of that, I've heard about or been involved in several situations that were discouraging - reading about environmental and health impacts to a community where my friend's parents live, learning more about natural gas drilling in PA, listening to several friends talk about recent struggles, visiting my 90-year-old and bedridden neighbor, watching an older family member struggle with her health, seeing some negative interactions on a team of girls that I help to coach.

Yesterday, I went out for a long run, and I pushed myself.  Hard.  I haven't run at that pace for that distance in months.

Is running how I work out this heaviness and pain?  Is running punishment - am I punishing myself for feeling badly that I can't stop all of these hard things from happening?

As I was reflecting on some of these things during my run yesterday, I came upon a bright spot.  It was one of the girls from the team that I help to coach - the one that's been experiencing some negativity - bounding down the street, the brightness of her smile and laugh matching that of the sun, which shone on us, driving away the dark.  Maybe I do use running as some strange form of punishment sometimes, but the good that's come from my running definitely outshines any bad.


  1. I wrote this post this past Sunday, and tried to edit it today. I think I'm still struggling with the subject...still processing. Let me know if you have any thoughts!

  2. I feel empowered when I run. And it is a kind of meditation. It clears the mind. I think that you are not punishing yourself, but using running to cleanse and get the toxins out (physically and mentally!).

  3. Thanks Elisa! It's good to be reminded of all of the positive reasons to run. I realize that I almost always feel better after my run...glad that I pushed myself and more in that way, it's not punishment.