Are you running for times or for your body?

The other day I was having dinner with a friend and I was contemplating my feelings about coming up on 40. It will happen next summer. I said I’m pretty happy with most things about getting older. I’d rather be who I am now than who I was ten years ago. The only thing I’m not looking forward to, I told her, is continuing to train just as hard, only to see my race times slow down. My friend looked at me uncomprehendingly and said “Who cares?!? You look fantastic!” (she’s a true friend). But I thought – wait – did she mishear me? I wasn’t talking about my looks, I was talking about my race times. It dawned on me that to some people running has a completely different purpose than chasing times. They train to look good. Which is fine. I’ll be honest, I’m very happy with the physical consequences of running hard. But my workouts are designed with one purpose in mind: to make me a faster runner. They’re not about sculpting or shedding or firming. I have the luxury of not thinking too much about my body because my goal of trying to get faster sort of takes care of that. But it made me wonder … how much do I really “not care”? So I played a game with myself to see (I like torturing myself with mind games this way.)

What if the Devil made a deal with me that I could take a minute off my 5K time this year (I’d still have to train just as hard so I deserved it) but I’d have to carry 5 extra pounds of fat on my body for a year? I would take that deal.

What if I could take two minutes off my time but I’d have to carry 10 extra pounds of fat for a year? I’m hesitating. I’m stuck on that one.

I guess I’ve been kidding myself because although I like working hard to run fast, obviously I wouldn’t be willing to unconditionally trade in times for my body (which by the way isn’t even close to perfect, but another benefit of coming up on 40 is that I’m finally comfortable in it).

My friend with whom I’d brought this up wouldn’t take an ounce of fat for a 10 minute PB. I interviewed another friend who I thought would struggle more with the question, as she works hard for her times and cares about them a lot, but she wouldn’t do the 5 pounds for 1 minute deal either. Hunh.

I would love to ask Shalane Flannigan. I bet she would take on 30 pounds for three years in exchange for the American record in the marathon (around 2 minutes faster than what she’s run). But I could be wrong – it is one of those things which is impossible to know until the Devil is actually there asking you to sign the deal.

I suppose all runners must fall somewhere along the scale of running only for times vs. running only for the physical benefits. The truth is, in reality the two are so inextricably linked that it really is hard to pose the hypothetical question of “which one is driving you?” It’s fun to try though – go ahead and test yourself – your answers may surprise you!

My love/hate relationship with this photo: I like how I look, but not the time. (so conflicted!)

My love/hate relationship with this photo: I like how I look, but not the time. (so conflicted!)