It’s funny, when I started running, and when I started writing this blog, I expected to feel inadequate. You can even read it in the first words of my current about page.
Let’s get something out of the way, right up front. I will never, ever, win a race. Not a 5k. Not a 10k. Nothing.
(I’m working on a new about page, but that’s how it starts, for now.)
The people I expected to make me feel inadequate were the frontrunners. Those spare, lean, explosive running machines who run a half-marathon in the time it takes me to make a sandwich. I expected to be envious of the cut, shirtless guys bounding across the finish line in Oakley’s, and tossing a quick thumbs up to the cheering crowds. I planned to feel deflated by the gentle ease of the spandex-clad, ponytailed 20 something girls, bouncing along with their iPods clipped to their immaculate outfits.
I do feel a twinge when I see one of those folks, but really, they were mostly a caricature in my head. Having seem some of them up close, mostly I’m realizing that they are just as human as me. The shirtless guy is sweltering on a hot day, the explosive running machines are in agony, and the spandex clad girls are struggling to focus on that next mile just as much as I would.
The real inadequacy came from an unexpected angle. It turns out, that all around me, in all walks of life, in all shapes and sizes, there are some truly amazing athletes who do some really amazing things, but seem to possess some kind of time machine that allows them to also live complete lives.
I call this the Bill Clinton Saxophone effect. See, when I was in middle and highschool, Bill Clinton was the President. I don’t know much about politics, and I didn’t know much then, but I knew that being the President was a full time goddamned job. That there might be great disparity in who turns out to be the president, but that you were certainly putting in long hours in the pursuit of the Best and Worst Job in the World. I am not sure how many people live in Arkansas, but I’m guessing being the Governor of Arkansas is no picnic either. Not a lot of time to kick back with the wife every Monday night and spend 4 hours raiding in World of Warcraft.
Here’s the heart of it. In addition to what I assume is a very busy public life, Bill Clinton is an accomplished (enough) saxophone player. That is the kind of thing that I don’t have. The “by-the-way” surprise of some amazing skill or aptitude. So it’s when a runner crops up like that, that’s when I feel inadequate.
At a race, or out on the run, I’m ready to see those amazing folks, the athletic ones, the effortless ones, the heroicly fast ones. At my computer, on the other hand, I’m often sitting there, reading something else, and somebody unearths a comment about their hidden life. As an example, the guy behind “The Oatmeal” and the genius behind “Hyperbole and a Half” are both runners. I didn’t know this at all, until The Oatmeal posted about running a trail ultramarathon or until Cow Spots and Tales linked Hyperbole and a Half’s amazing (and definitively runner-brained) tale of how she finally got to call Poison Control.
See, if I run 5 miles, I come home and I talk about it to Steph. If I run 10 miles, I put up a huge blog post about it. If I run 13 miles, I plan it in advance for weeks and make my wife wake up at 4:30 to come cheer for me. I want to wear my medal to work for a week. I don’t know how these people can live such rich lives that my own meager accomplishments don’t even register on their “brag constantly” meters.
As I’ve run more, I’ve had a lot more Bill Clinton Saxophone moments, because I have started to appreciate the kind of time it takes. So when someone casually spits out that they run, I am ready in advance to marvel at how they find the time.
Finally, I’m glad running turned out to be manageable, because I was a grotesque failure when I tried to learn the saxophone.