Dig in to any subculture enough, and you’ll find the fanatics.  They come in different flavors – the statistics fanatics, the novelty fanatics, the linguistic fanatics, whatever.  You find them in academic circles, sci-fi and fantasy fan groups that border on cults, actual real life cults, music fans of every genre, professional sports fans, and so on and so forth.

Running is no exception.  Start with a light jog around the block, make some friends, maybe enter a local 5k, and before you know it you’re age grading your time on every workout, looking for ultras that scale the highest summit in every state, and learning how to ask where the porta-potties are in seventeen languages in order to avoid unpleasantness on what your colleagues have come to call your Epic Eurasian Marathon Idiot Vacation.

Or, you know, somewhere in between.

At some level, though, we all start noticing patterns in our lives and what we love.  This creates groups like the Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs, and the 50 States Club.  It creates those of us who get on “running streaks” of at least x miles every day.  It creates the guys that fly all over the world to run a marathon (distance) on every continent in seven daysOr seven ultras.

All of this can be very encouraging if you need something to keep you going.  It can help get you out of bed on those I-don’t-wanna days.  It can inspire others.  It can even raise money for charity.  For a lot of people, chasing patterns can certainly make running more fun.  Alternately, chasing patterns can drive you insane, cost you tons of money, and change your direction.  You skip recovery, you lose form, you sign up for things that you have no real interest in participating in, whatever.  Some will swear up and down that pattern chasing is the greatest thing ever – whatever form that may be for them.  Others look down on such people with disgust, making claims that they either don’t get it, don’t respect the sport, or aren’t challenging themselves1.  As with most things in life where large groups of people disagree, the key is balance.

Everyone has their own reasons for running.  And everyone participating in any given event has their own reason for participating in that event.  And each individual’s reasons may change over time.  Just like elites realize that the thousands of people behind them enable the race to exist and have prize money and the walkers at the end realize that without the draw of the elites there wouldn’t be enough sponsorship and participation for organizers to be able to keep the course closed long enough for them to finish, whatever your reason for racing, we all need to remember that not everybody signs up for that same reason.

This going somewhere?

Actually, I think that was the point.  Love your fellow runner, damn it.  What led me here was my own pattern chasing.

I started running in 2007.  In 2008 I ran a marathon, liked it, and ran another.  In 2009, I ran three.  In 2010, I ran four.  So now, here we are in 2011, and since meeting my half marathon goal in May I’ve managed to register myself for four marathons in the last three months of the year.

While I’ve been training for Layton, and I hope to post a decent time in Mesquite, I have no fantasies about doing anything close to my PR the following day in Valley of Fire.  Layton is about a PR attempt.  Mesquite and Valley of Fire are about the challenge of back to back marathons.  Vegas is about running the Strip at Night, some year-end unwinding in Vegas, and giving Competitor Group a chance to see if they’re worth the money.  Different reasons for each.

But of course that 2 – 3 – 4 – 4 pattern of the last few years has got me really wanting to find a fifth 2011 marathon before the year end.  There are certainly possibilities, but nothing really convenient to our RV Park in Mesquite.  Toss in a little travel to family for Thanksgiving and fitting in a fifth marathon quickly became an all consuming obsession.

Until I said stop.  Just stop.  I’ve got a reason to run Layton.  I’ve got a reason to run Mesquite, Valley of Fire, and Vegas.  The only reason I had to run a fifth marathon was to say I’ve run 2, 3, 4, and 5 marathons, respectively, the last four years.  Which would only reinforce the desire to run six marathons in 20122.  So I’m stating it publicly here: I will not run a fifth marathon in 2011.  And I’m not going to pay a lot for this muffler.

Some races I run to try and set a PR.  Or try and score an age group award – or maybe even an overall award.  Back to back marathons are their own challenge and not something I think I’m going to make a habit of, but a personal achievement I’m looking forward to tackling.  Some races I don’t even try to run my best but do it to run with my wife, walk with my mother, or just dress up in a costume and have fun3.  But a notch on the shoe rack is no reason to run a race.

At least not for me.  At least not right now.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. A good example is Lancelot A. Smith’s fairly controversial critique of “50 Staters” from a few years ago.
  2. Which I may or may not do.  The point is that it’s not about the number.
  3. And/or get muddy, scratched, and bruised.