Amby Burfoot on the true joy and meaning of running

“The world is full of runners, so you'll probably see one every time you circle the block or your favorite park. Some will be thinner than you, some smoother-striding, some faster. But don't let this get you down. There's only one runner who really counts: you.” — Amby Burfoot

These words, by the man who won the 1968 Boston Marathon and for many years served as the editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine, are ones I try to keep in front of my mind, even though inevitably they slide to the back when I’m out running.

That’s because I compare myself to the other runners I see all the time. I did it when I was in my twenties and I ran mile after seemingly endless mile around a park in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, and I do it even today when I run along the Chattahoochee River on the weekends.

Thoughts like these — “I’m not as fast as that person,” or “I’m not as fit as that other person,” or “how can I possibly hope to train for a long distance race when I don’t measure up even here?” — are things I used to curse myself for thinking.

It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally realized they’re not going to go away. They’re a part of those little voices in the back of my mind that will always question whether I can really do this, whether that’s run 5 miles today, or run 13.1 miles — or even 26.2 miles — at a race in the future.

Even though it’s not easy, I’ve begun to make my peace with the idea that they’ll always be there. I just don’t have to listen to them.

We have a choice in what we think, or at least in how we respond to what we think, and that choice and the actions that follow are what define each of us — not the stray negative thought that just went dancing through my mind.

In that vein, it helps me to remember this quotation, also by Burfoot, from 2009’s Runner’s World Complete Book of Running:

“We have all learned everything we know physically—from walking to running a marathon—by trial and error, so there's no reason to become our own worst enemies when we suffer a setback. From time to time everyone falls short of their goals. It's an illusion to believe that champions succeed because they do everything perfectly. You can be certain that every archer who hits the bull's-eye has also missed the bull's-eye a thousand times while learning the skill.”

In fact, you could say that it’s the very fact that we aren’t perfect that makes it so satisfying when we reach a little higher than we thought we could, when we run a little farther than we thought we could.

Burfoot is famous for exhorting runners to just keep showing up. That you’re going to experience difficulty, disappointment and even despair. His point is, they aren’t a departure from the normal order of things — they are the normal order of things, and we should expect them to come.

The goal isn’t medals or winning, he adds. It’s simply to keep moving, to keep showing up, and keep running:

“As runners, we all go through many transitions — transitions that closely mimic the larger changes we experience in a lifetime. First, we try to run faster. Then we try to run harder. Then we learn to accept ourselves and our limitations, and at last, we can appreciate the true joy and meaning of running.”

Wise words that I’m going to (try to!) live by. I hope you’re having a wonderful week — as always, keep in touch and let me know what’s new with you.

Your friend,

— Terrell

P.S.: I know we’re all living through a difficult time in our national life, and while I don’t want to delve into politics in this newsletter, I want to send a big hug out to all of you readers and subscribers. Running may not seem all that important in light of all that’s going on in the world, but it offers us a chance to connect with one another when we do it together, something that is more important today than ever. I appreciate and value each and every one of you — right, left, middle, wherever you find yourself — and I’m glad you’re here. All are welcome at this table. — T.J.

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Governor’s Cup Half Marathon

Get ready for hills and more hills at this stunningly beautiful race in Montana’s Helena Valley in the western part of the state, a region whose history began in 1864 during the Montana gold rush.

This is definitely a hilly race — while the course heads downhill gradually for the first few miles, it hits a challenging hilly stretch in the middle, and later in the second half there’s a steep uphill at mile 11, which the organizers call “Cardiac Hill.”

Runs June 8, 2019 — details here.

Madeline Island Half Marathon

Run the roads of this windswept island just off the Wisconsin shoreline in Lake Superior at this late spring race, which unfolds around the southern end of this 14-mile-long island, which centuries ago was a spiritual center for the Lake Superior Chippewa.

Runs May 18, 2019 — details here.

River Valley Trail Run Half Marathon

You’ll run among the challenging hills and beautifully scenic valleys of the River Valley Ranch summer camp retreat just outside Manchester, a small rural town that lies less than an hour’s drive from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., at this springtime race, which organizers say will push every runner to their limit.

Runs April 27, 2019 — details here.

Monterey Bay Half Marathon

From the deep blues and greens of the Pacific Ocean crashing the rocky coastline, to the kelp beds swaying back and forth with the waves, and the sea gulls floating along the breeze and sometimes even seals and sea lions out on the large rocks in the water — you’ll see all of those and more at this fall race.

Runs November 11, 2018 — details here.

Little Rock Half Marathon

With its occasionally hilly course that takes runners across the Arkansas River and runs through the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock — where there will be thousands of spectators lining the streets to cheer the runners on — this race starts downtown and finishes near the banks of the Arkansas River, within a short drive from the Clinton Presidential Library.

Runs March 3, 2019 — details here.

In Case You Missed It

17 ‘Off-Road’ Half Marathons That’ll Get You Off the Pavement

Races that take you out of the “concrete canyons” of our cities and into the woods, trails and parks of cities big and small around the country.

See the full list here.

All the Things That Happen to Your Body When You Run a 100-Mile Marathon

“I began my ultra-marathon journey about ten years ago, but only recently made a second attempt at the elusive 100 miles, after the first was scuppered by my running buddy who, at 83 miles, exclaimed he could no longer see.”

— Fascinating first-person take on what it’s really like to run an ultra-marathon in this Quartzy article, which details — in lots of excruciating detail! — exactly what is happening inside your stomach, muscle fibers and blood vessels while you’re attempting to complete what no doubt sounds like an insane distance to many, including many runners.

The Best Headphones for Running

“We put all of our contenders under the scrutiny of our expert panel. We asked the panelists to consider the fit, comfort, ease of use, and sound quality of each model and to rank their top picks. This step eliminated a lot of poorly designed headphones and allowed us to focus our endurance tests on earbuds we’d actually want to use.”

— Great, comprehensive (but not overwhelming) look by the Wirecutter at the headphones they say are the best for runners on the market. Not all of the them, just the ones they find to be the best. Honestly, I’m not a gear fanatic and I often get lost in the minutiae of product specifications and features when I read a gear review; that’s not the case with this profile, thanks to the very reader- (and non-expert-) friendly writing that the Wirecutter specializes in. Big thumbs up.

What’s the Perfect Amount of Running for Good Health?

“Engineering a car to win the Indy 500 is a very different goal than engineering a car to run smoothly for 500,000 miles... Likewise, designing a running plan to maximize speed and endurance is not the same goal as designing a running plan to maximize longevity.”

— Really interesting article from Medium on how far really is too far when it comes to running and training. Thanks to a few recent studies that cast doubt on the benefits of really long-distance running, the article’s author makes the case that less is definitely more. “Stronger and faster is not always the same as healthier,” argues Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist and clinical professor at the University of Missouri, who led one of the studies profiled in the piece.

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— That was the response of one runner when asked what happens for those at the back of the pack when the “trash runners” go out on their nightly adventures, picking up cigarette butts, bottles, food containers, and really anything and everything they find that’s garbage on the sidewalks and streets of the city. It’s part of a global movement called “plogging” that’s picked up steam as the worldwide economy has surged and development has exploded. Read this cool piece in Citylab for more.