When I picked up Bernd Heinrich’s Why We Run, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. It is both a memoir of ultra training and a mediation on what we can learn from the endurance and running abilities of various animals. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of naturalist writing – I’m a city boy, and the life of bugs isn’t really my thing. However, Heinrich’s strong writing, and idiosyncratic approach, really sucked me in. I couldn’t put the book down. I’ll probably write a fuller review in the future, but here’s another quote that has stuck with me.
A quick pounce-and-kill requires no dream. Dreams are the beacons that carry us far ahead into the hunt, into the future, and into a marathon. We can visualize far ahead. We see our quarry even as it recedes over the hills and into the mists. It is still in our minds eye, still a target, and imagination becomes the main motivator. It is the pull that allows us to reach into the future, whether it is to kill a mammoth or an antelope, or to write a book, or to achieve record time in a race. Other things being equal, those hunters who had the most love of nature would be the ones who sought out all its allures. They were the ones who persisted the longest on the trail. They derived pleasure from being out, exploring, and traveling afar. When they felt fatigue and pain, they did not stop because their dream carried them still forward.
They were our ancestors.
Pictograph of Runners cited by Heinrich in Why We Run
“Ultimately, running appealed to me because its quality cannot be defined in terms of anyone’s use or place in a hierarchy or plan. Perfection is fairly and objectively defined by numbers. There are strict levels of excellence that anyone who chooses can easily recognize and aspire to, with the ultimate being a record. There are rules to the game and the number that one may achieve – whether time taken to run a certain distance, place in a race, or a record – is never open to judgment. Nor can it be snatched away, falsified, or claimed by anyone else. The test is the race, where credentials mean nothing and performances everything”
- Bernd Heinrich, Why We Run
As someone who works in a world of smoke and mirrors, where interpretation and obfuscation rule, I find the know-ability of running appealing. * There are no judges to grade your performance. No scorecards and no precedents that need to be honored.
There are numbers.
The number of miles and the time it take the runner to complete them. One’s performance is measured by the clock and the distance. Success and failure are not open to interpretation. One either meets one’s goal, or one doesn’t. You can’t fool anyone, and you can’t be fooled.
Who wouldn’t be drawn to something so simple and so hard?
* For those who don’t know, I’m a lawyer.
Amby Burfoot winning Boston
In mid-March my Wesleyan track team took a spring training trip to Quantico, Virginia. With Boston a month away, I wanted to pile on the miles. The first morning, I was up early for a 17 miler. That afternoon I talked my teammate Bill Rodgers (yes that Bill Rodgers) into joining me for what promises to be a relaxed 12-mile run. And it was, until we got totally lost in the twisting trails of Prince William Forest Park. After two hours in low-80s heat, we walked a couple of time, then started up again, and eventually emerged to some roads. The run took three hours. I wrote it down in my log as 22 miles. That gave me 39 for the day, a good beginning.
Amby Burfoot and Bill Rodgers
Over the next two weeks, I averaged 25 miles a day, hitting 350 miles for the 14 days. After a few days of recovery, I noticed that I was running fresher than ever. Even when jogging, I skimmed along at six minutes per mile. This had never happened before. It has never happened since. But in April 1968, I was in the flow… I was totally focused on the upcoming Boston Marathon and totally energized by the process.
– Amby Burfoot from the essay “Running Scared”
Dellinger with Steve Prefontaine
“Dellinger was good in the running events. He’d tell his boys that when you get really fit, running’s easy, running’s like brushing your teeth” Bowerman said. “Of course, that wasn’t training. Training is like having your teeth cleaned an hour a day”
– Bill Bowerman on Bill Dellinger from Kenny Moore’s 2006 Runner’s World article “Leading Men” about Prefonatine’s time at Oregon.