I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts today, No Stupid Questions, which is essentially a conversation between Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth. They cover a broad range of topics and feed off each other in a fun, informative way. Dubner is a writer/economist and Duckworth a psychologist at University of Chicago. Today’s topic was “How Valuable is Enthusiasm?” Dubner, an avid amateur golfer, was posing how important enthusiasm was for him as he approached participation in a pro-am golfing event. He quoted from Gary Player’s book, The Golfer’s Guide to the Meaning of Life. Those of us of age probably recall the “big three” of golf: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player. Dubner indicates this book is about much more than golf and draws on Player’s comments about enthusiasm. Perhaps more than is needed for this post. Nevertheless, I highly recommend listening to this podcast, #89 in the NSQ series.
This discussion got me thinking about how important enthusiasm is in our running lives. What is it that gets us out to train most days at an intense level? And what allows us to put the hammer down, or keep the hammer down, in a race when discomfort mounts? This is hardly a stupid or theoretical question for a competitive runner, at any level. It’s real! And while we may answer it in different ways at different times, the question is always there.
In the mid and latter stages of a race, while we may find ourselves thinking about crossing the finish line, the beer afterwards, or the awards ceremony if we’re fortunate to be a top finisher, we are probably dealing with the immediate effort (I won’t use the term pain, but it abounds!) needed to keep the pace. We might be saying to ourselves “did I really sign up for this!” or something of that nature. But for the most part, we keep going….and going. Why? Afterall, no one is paying us and maybe our immediate competitors, and possibly family, care, but hardly anyone else.
Duckworth suggests to Dubner his passion and zest for golf is autotelic, and notes this is something that is an end to itself. Rather than focusing on rewards or something external, the activity is internally motivated. Ideally, isn’t that what running is for us? It’s not about pace, place or even good health. Rather, it is experiencing the flow of using our bodies to move through space and feel empowered as we do that — in the present moment.
It may be a challenge to keep this in mind at mile 5 of a 10K race. But if our zest and enthusiasm allows us to stay in that moment, feeling every fiber in our bodies responding to the call to keep moving, we experience this autotelic flow that doesn’t need justifying or defining. It just is!