Running with integrity

In its purest form, I think running is an honest man’s sport. Along with that honesty, I figure, usually comes a fair dose of integrity, too. Very early in my running career, I began to hang my hat on those characteristics. With the passage of time, I came to consider myself to be the embodiment of those traits. Time and again my belief was reaffirmed. In countless races I saw how runners’ performances reflected their training. If a runner wants to run well, he’s got to put in the requisite miles. It’s that simple. There’s nowhere to hide. And, that’s what makes running an honest man’s sport.

It’s too bad the aforementioned qualities don’t always translate to humility. A runner with limited leg speed, I used to spend an inordinate amount of time training as hard as I could and basically pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion on a regular basis. In the process, I developed an idealized image of myself. Eventually, I grew convinced that I could train harder and longer than most other people, and that made me more deserving of winning. Running is an honest man’s sport, and I convinced myself I was that honest man. Unfortunately, this perspective colored the way I saw myself not only as a runner, but as a person in the world at large. Recently, however, I had an experience which tempered my perspective just a bit.

On the heels of an incident in which my family and I were on the receiving end of someone’s rudeness, I began a verbal tirade to my wife and youngest son about honesty and integrity and how rudeness falls outside the boundaries of those virtues. Sadly, the diatribe went on and on ending only after my ire had been resolved. It was only later, as I reflected on my response that I realized I’d made the incident about me. I’d allowed stubborn pride and indignation to color my self-righteous perspective. Ultimately, I’d failed to see the opportunity for what it could have been, a teachable moment.

As with most such experiences, I later viewed the incident from the perspective of running. Honestly, I was embarrassed by what it revealed. As a solo endeavor, running provides the ultimate test, against one’s self and against others, too. Indeed, it is a place to exploit one’s competitiveness. But, it can also serve to fuel one’s ego. What I am beginning to learn, though, is that there are other rewards too; ones that don’t include the perpetual quest to finish a step ahead of the other guy. Perhaps, instead of trying to exploit other people’s weaknesses or flawed behaviors, sometimes we should find ways to lift them up. In the case of that rude person, maybe a better response would have been to convey compassion and forgiveness. Of course, this would have required me to let my guard down. It’s quite possible this would have exposed my fragile ego. In the end, it just might have revealed the character of the person I profess to be.