A couple weeks ago, when I wrote about my decision to DNS a race, my thoughts were geared towards the end of becoming a better runner. I don’t like to do things half-assed; I want to pursue excellence in the areas of my life that mean the most to me.
But why does it matter for a solidly middle-of-the-packer like myself to focus on excelling in a sport? I’ll never toe the starting line of an Olympics race. I may never win a race.
But that doesn’t stop me from using my gifts, whatever they may be, and pursuing my personal best, excellence for myself, in the sport of running. So today, I want to think out loud a little bit about running and the pursuit of excellence.
Be who you are and be that well, to quote Francis de Sales. We have gifts, potential, talents, passions, whatever you want to call them, because we are meant to use them.
Thousands of people throughout the world surely desire to run, yet are unable to run. Perhaps they lost their legs in battle, perhaps a disease paralyzed them, perhaps the social conditions of their homeland making running literally a threat to their livelihood. So for those of us who can run and enjoy it – to not strive to work towards our potential is a squander of a gift.
While being a runner should only be one aspect of many of your identity, if you enjoy running, you should strive for excellence in it. Likewise, your pursuit of excellence in running should complement your pursuit of excellence in the other areas of your life: becoming a better runner should complement your journey to becoming a better person.
According to the philosopher Thomas Aquinas, the virtue of excellence is related to the virtue of fortitude (bravery). And when you consider this, it makes sense. How often do you hold yourself back because you’re afraid of failure, discomfort, or commitment to a goal? Fear prevents us from striving for excellence in our sport.
Excellence in running has very little to do with the time on the clock; for if a 2:xx marathon were the measure of excellence, then very few of us could achieve it. But excellence is a virtue, not a finish time.
This does not mean beating up your body with overtraining or pushing yourself to the point of injury again and again. This does not mean that you must make every race a PR. I would argue that such mentality actually goes against the virtue of excellence as a runner, because it’s quite difficult to be an excellent runner when you’ve run your body into the ground.
This does not mean you focus obsessively on running, at the cost of your health, family, and livelihood. Like all virtues, excellence is found in the happy medium, in doing what is appropriate for your circumstances.
A 45-minute 5K runner and a 15-minute 5K runner both can pursue excellence since excellence is in relation to their abilities and circumstances. Their training may be different, their finish times may be different, but what matters is the dedication, hard work, commitment, and love of the run.
Striving for excellence inspires others to strive for excellence in their lives. Whether you’re watching elite runners, friends setting PRs, or the back of the pack runners giving it their all over a 6 or 7 hour marathon, you always feel inspired seeing the accomplishments of others.
Striving for excellence reflects our innate dignity as human beings. We were created with bodies that are capable for movement. Our very physiology lends itself towards athleticism: our hearts, lungs, muscles, bones, and even our blood responds to the stress of hard physical activity through becoming stronger and better.
Striving for excellence is not “doing it for the Insta” or to beat someone on Strava. Striving for excellence is not giving up when you have a bad race or chasing after every “next best thing” in training. Striving for excellence is individual and does not fall into the snare of the comparison trap. Striving for excellence is also not a single-minded focus that neglects all other aspects of life for one goal (because is that really truly excellence?).
Striving for excellence embraces suffering. A mark of an excellent runner is the ability to handle discomfort and endure through bad miles. We call ourselves endurance athletes, and to endure quite literally means to suffer and persevere through that suffering. It comes from the Latin word indurare, which means “to harden.”
Strive for excellence in your running because you are capable, because you have a gift, because you have the desire, because you find joy in the miles. You are always more than just a runner, but there is something good in striving to be the best runner you personally can be.
And, as with everything, this doesn’t just apply to running – the pursuit of excellence, doing something well because you can, can be done in any area of life: parenthood, marriage, career, writing, hiking, any good thing.
What motivates you in your running?
In which areas of your life are you currently pursuing excellence?