'I still haven't found what I'm looking for...'
What a 34-year-old gospel song can tell us about running, striving for goals, and reaching for something more.
Back in December, I joined a group of our members who were all shooting for a goal of running 100 miles by the end of the month. (Last month feels now like it might as well have happened as long ago as the Cretaceous period, doesn’t it?)
Some of us hit the goal, some of us didn’t. And some of us exceeded it — by a lot, even; one member wrote to me on the 20th that he’d already run 120 miles, so I imagine he hit 150 or more by the time we reached New Year’s Eve.
For those of us who didn’t — a group that included me — it was something none of us felt great about. Especially because we started the month with a lot of hope and excitement, and by the time we reached the middle of the month most of us were still going strong.
But as we all know, life has a way of throwing curveballs. For me, work and all that happens in the days leading up to Christmas ended up being a lot more demanding than I thought they’d be, and so my training fell by the wayside. Other members got injured, or had old injuries flare up again.
Even though it would have been nice to reach that goal, as time went on I felt less and less disappointed. (I did run 75 miles, after all.) Of course, it would have been nice to actually reach the goal.
But the more I thought about it, what I really enjoyed about the whole thing was coming up with and getting excited about the goal, and setting out on the journey to get there, alongside our fellow members who were reaching for it too.
So what if I didn’t reach it?
In 2001, PGA Tour golfer David Duval won the British Open to notch his first major championship victory. The road there was a long one, as he spent years honing his swing and winning tournaments, scoring near-misses in other majors as players like Tiger Woods leap-frogged ahead of him.
When he finally made it there, however, the elation he expected to feel was missing. Instead, he felt the opposite, as this article from 16 years ago explored:
“It was either the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno, Casey Stengel or Fred Couples — one of those deep thinkers with distorted syntax — who said you can never get where you are going because to get there you have to get halfway there first.
You spend all your time getting halfway home and never arrive at your goal. Perhaps it would have been better for David Duval if he had stayed trapped in that philosophical paradox. When he got where he was going he found out it wasn't what he had expected it to be.
Now, he is simply lost, a man of much talent and significant intellect who discovered that sometimes dreams are better left as dreams because when a fantasy becomes reality the lure of the illusion is gone. He'd have been better off staying halfway, still chasing the carrot on the end of the stick.”
The kicker, for me, was this paragraph:
“It was almost as if when Duval caressed the silver claret jug he gazed deep into his reflection on the ancient trophy and asked: ‘Is that all there is?’ The old jug, Duval found, is empty. If he were expecting it to be brimming with happiness he learned he must look elsewhere.”
What the song says
There’s a song that has always captured this idea for me, from U2’s 1987 album The Joshua Tree, called “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It’s one I listen to a lot when I run, because it captures that feeling of desiring a thing that’s just out of your grasp.
Even the lyrics suggest someone running, reaching for something:
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…
There’s an ache, even a melancholy to them, as you feel the protagonist yearning for something he’ll never have, no matter what he does:
I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…
And then it gets interesting. Because it’s the reaching for something more — the desiring of a better place to be, the dream of what’s possible — that excites us the most. Being on the journey, it turns out, is what matters most — and you might not actually want to get there:
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I'm still running.
What’s so interesting to me is how this song brings both of those things to life. The lyrics reveal so much anxiety and melancholy, but the band performs the song live with such exuberant joy:
I don’t know if this will make any sense to you at all — with this essay, you’re essentially getting a feed into how my mind works when I run!
But it hit me, after I didn’t reach our 100-mile goal, that aiming for a goal isn’t important because of the goal. It’s what the aiming does to you that counts — how gathering and focusing your energy makes you better, regardless of the outcome.
As always, I hope you are feeling good and running well — let me know how your running is going, and share with me anything fun you’ve achieved lately. I’d love to hear all about it.
Become a full member
Interested in learning more about the mental and emotional side of running? Or training with a group virtually this spring? We dig deeper in our member issues and our invite-only Strava group, where we support and cheer each other on.
When you become a full member, you’ll receive issues like these:
Races you’ll love running
Colorado Springs, Colo. | Sunday, June 13, 2021
One of the most stunningly scenic road races anywhere in America, this race unfolds on a loop route through Garden of the Gods Park, known for the sweeping views of its 300-ft.-high sandstone rock formations and the sight of Pikes Peak off in the distance. The race is run mainly on paved roads inside the park and you’ll need to be ready for high altitudes — the race is run between about 6,200 and 6,500 feet above sea level. The highlight of the race is Balanced Rock, which appears to defy the law of gravity at it sits perched precariously atop a sloped ledge of sandstone, just before the halfway point in the race.
$45 and up | Sign up here
Timothy Lake, Ore. | Saturday, June 5 - Sunday, June 6, 2021
Described as one of the Pacific Northwest’s most stunningly beautiful and picturesque races, this event takes runners on a tour around Timothy Lake near Mount Hood in the northwestern part of the state, along a challenging, high-elevation single-track trail run at roughly 3,200 feet above sea level. You’ll follow “a magical course that traverses three rustic bridges over sparkling tributaries that feed the deep blue waters of the lake,” organizers say, adding that you can run the half marathon on either Saturday or Sunday — but the full marathon runs only on Saturday.
$55 and up | Sign up here
Kimanjo, Kenya | Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021
A once-in-a-lifetime race among the trails of this remote village where the Maasai people live on the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, and an event designed to raise money to help educate girls growing up there. It takes three hours across bumpy dirt roads to get to the race location from where you’ll stay, but for the adventurous the trip is more than worth it — it takes place during the time of year known as the Great Migration, when herds of zebras, wildebeests and gazelles are moving back and forth between the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara. And don’t be surprised if Maasai children join up to run the race alongside you when you’re out on the course.
$3,550 | Sign up here
Charleston, S.C. | Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021
Perhaps Charleston’s best-known and loved road race, this 10K actually starts in nearby Mount Pleasant, a town you can see across the Cooper River from downtown. From there, you’ll run up and over the towering Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge that was built in 2005 and has hosted this race ever since, typically drawing as many as 50,000 runners and walkers every year. You’ll see all ages running this one — when I ran it several years ago, I saw kids as young as 8 and 9 running alongside parents and grandparents. It’s a blast, and a beautiful, easy run through downtown along Charleston’s King Street.
TBA | Sign up here
Richfield, Utah | Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021
Get ready for a run through the canyon country of southern Utah, a region known as “Panoramaland” for its stunning scenery of red rock formations, canyons and mountains (and because it’s not far from Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks). You’ll be able to run either the 25K or the 50K at this race, which features some challenging technical trails and some big changes in elevation — especially some big climbs in the first half of the race, followed by equally dramatic descents in the second half. And In the part of the course known as the Dairy Hills, which both races run through, there are a pair of rocks you’ll need to climb over as well as a rock overhang and even a ladder you’ll need to climb.
$50 and up | Sign up here
Falmouth, Mass. | Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021
Hailed by magazines like Runner’s World and New England Runner as one of the country’s most scenic races, thanks to a course that unfolds along the Falmouth coastline of southern Cape Cod, several miles of this race unfold along the beachside roads that look out onto Nantucket Sound, with Martha’s Vineyard off in the distance. It has only a single hill — which you’ll encounter twice, on the way out and on the way back — and the truly adventurous can run it as the first part of this event’s “Clam Chowdah Challenge,” followed up by the full marathon the next day.
TBA | Sign up here
Words to run by
“I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald