'I am extraordinary, if you'd ever get to know me; I am extraordinary, I'm just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane, psycho...' - "Extraordinary," Liz Phair (2003)
"I'm starting to really enjoy life," said the young woman. "Last week was the first time I walked out of the gym while it was still daylight. I walked my dogs twice."
I sat listening to the conversation while nibbling on a pulled pork sandwich and swatting at a dozen gnats. The three of us had just finished working a sprint triathlon, the official debrief was completed. For me, it was a time to sit back and quietly learn more about officiating, especially about personal interaction with other officials and athletes once the race is through.
The young woman, in her real life, works as a personal trainer. Even the most emotionally-ignorant person like me can tell she has that intense 'take no bull' kind of attitude. Type A, all the way. She recently stepped back from a managerial position which kept her off the workout floor and away from the things she seems to enjoy the most about a career in the fitness profession.
My friend and mentor, Jay, definitely knows the lay of the terrain. He has, over the course of many years, moved up the food chain, from working as a personal trainer, to operating a small exercise and fitness center, to running the athletic and fitness program for the base where I work. Not surprisingly, he described in brief the factorial increases which come along with grasping each succeding rung up the corporate ladder: responsibility, accountability, boring meetings, and - regrettably - time spent doing things you would prefer to have done by someone else.
"But as you get older, there is the need to learn management. You can't stay in a career for 20 years, into your mid-40s, and still be out on the floor showing guys how to lift a weight a certain way."
He continued, "On the other side of the coin, you bring in young folks to begin their career and they really don't know everything there is to know about working with people one-to-one. They might have taken the class or read the book, and passed the test, but they haven't proven themselves yet. I tend to push them toward doing endurance events, such as long-distance triathlons, marathons, stuff like that, as a method of validating themselves to their clients."
I thought a great deal about Jay's validation comment as I drove home. As a coach my methods are validated by not only by the athletes I coach but also by myself. I have a piece written by Ethan Barron, a college track and cross-country head coach, tacked up above my desk. He talks not only about the need for a coach to be a reliable role model with regards to dedication, loyalty, work ethic and healthy lifestyle choices, but also about striving for ones' best as a definition of success.
How many times have you heard family members talk about you? The last time Suzanne and I visited my family, my sister joked, "...someone please remind the runners to get back on time so we're not late for..." There would be no financial hardship in my house if I had a dollar for every time I had a relative say, "...you make me feel like I should go out and do..." It validates, to a degree, the success of what we do in our lives. We aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we're somewhere on the path.
Some folks, on the other hand, like to have a little more concrete evidence to validate why they run. I guess that's why people run races. It can't be necessarily because we have a love for technical fiber shirts, or we want to justify drinking a beer at 9:00 in the morning. And the hard numbers, the black and white on that results sheet can tell us how well we did - both in training and in performance - compared to our fellow runners and the varying sample population from the rest of the world who decided to show up that day. Training can also be validated by other numbers: They can be the physiological markers which are positively affected by our lifestyle. They can be the increase or decrease in measure of distance, of time, bodily habitus, and of consistency. There's nothing like the sight of a calendar with filled spaces.
So, maybe we run to prove ourselves. Maybe we run to prove to ourselves. And there are probably times we run in spite of ourselves. But most of all I believe we do it to validate ourselves.