I’ve always felt odd for not being competitive. I played sports growing up (baseball, golf, football, neighborhood basketball) but never really cared if I won or lost. Perhaps this is why, save for my four years in college, I haven’t been very passionate about watching sports, either.
This is a strange thing to articulate, though I’m not sure why. To admit being uncompetitive feels a bit un-American, or at least unusual. Thankfully, Haruki Murakami — an esteemed novelist and avid runner — explained his similar feelings in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
“The thing is, I’m not much for team sports. That’s just the way I am. Whenever I play soccer or baseball — actually, since becoming an adult this is hardly ever — I never feel comfortable. Maybe it’s because I don’t have any brothers, but I could never get into the kind of games you play with others. I’m also not very good at one-on-one sports like tennis. I enjoy squash, but generally when it comes to a game against someone, the competitive aspects makes me uncomfortable. And when it comes to martial arts, too, you can count me out.
Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not totally uncompetitive. It’s just that for some reason I never cared all that much whether I beat others or lost to them. This sentiment remains pretty much unchanged after I grew up. It doesn’t matter what field you’re talking about — beating somebody else just doesn’t do it for me. I’m much more interested in whether I reach the goals that I set for myself, so in this sense long distance running is the perfect fit for a mindset like mine.”
I’m no long-distance runner like Murakami (he once ran 62 miles in one day), but I do try to run four miles four to five days a week. To some degree, my motive for running is the same; I want to accomplish my goal of hitting the mileage and pace I like.
But more than that, I run for mental and emotional health. I’ve found that running several days a week and walking the others (I go out the same time nearly every morning) keeps me from starting and continuing the day wracked with anxiety.
This is why I’m not interested in running with anyone. It’s nothing personal —it’s not that I don’t want to run with you — it’s that I don’t want to run with anyone because to do so would compromise the solitude needed for me to quell my anxious heart and mind.
Here again, I resonate with Murakami:
“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring.”
It’s not that I run to avoid people. I love spending time with my family and friends and others when I’ve had sufficient alone time. But unless I spend time alone, I’m nowhere near my best for communing with anyone.
My time alone must be filled with wandering thoughts and not thinking at all. Other than showering, running is the only activity in my life capable of producing that state of mind.
As I run, I don’t think of much of anything. Like Murakami,
“I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. … The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go.”