I recently read something about running the 100m dash, or some record being set, or maybe I was just looking at that Usain Bolt GIF with the dude smiling his face off because he got a fist bump—the specifics don't really matter; somehow I started thinking about sprinting, is all you need to know—and it got me wondering what exactly is "a run." You know, like when someone says, "I'm gonna go for a run." People say this phrase all the time, it's got to have some kind of meaning or at least prompt a certain mental image in the listener's head.
As the listener, what are you expectations when you hear that? What is the bare minimum required to be considered "a run"? I think, when someone says he's going for a run, a decent chunk of time should elapse. If I told you I was going for a run, went outside and ran a 100m dash, immediately returned and said "all done," you'd call bullshit. Because it is bullshit.
Clearly I don't mean to imply that running the 100m dash isn't athletic; it certainly is. When you get right down to it, it's the purest form of athletic competition. It's race you to that tree, spruced up a bit with officials, painted-lane tracks and bizarro sneakers with nails in them. And this isn't a golf-isn't-a-real-sport thing either; it most certainly is. You are running and it's a competition. Just look at Bolt's physique; that's a sport.
I'm just saying, I could go out and run a 100m dash in 30 seconds, or however long it took my slow ass and it would just be something arduous I did for 30 seconds. Doing anything for 30 seconds doesn't count for shit. You read for 30 seconds? Great, you know it was the best of times and the worst of times in Dickens's Paris. Did a bit of knitting for 30 seconds? Sweet knot you've got there. Went for a 30 second drive? Say "hi" to the neighbors. Had sex for 30 seconds? Now you've got a kid...Alright, that one's sort of impressive.
Obviously training to run a 100m dash as fast as possible is a different story. Sprinters have to hone coordination, strength and speed, naturally, which takes considerable effort. Just like most other sports or athletic endeavors, getting to the point of actually doing the damn thing is much more difficult than the damn thing itself. You always hear athletes talking about how the games are the fun part. It's still an athletic challenge, but it's almost like they're on autopilot after all the work they put in every other day.
The training schedule given in that link—to train for a race that is supposed to be over in 12 seconds—is nuts. Run 100 meters at 90 percent intensity, take three minutes off then repeat 4 more times. Oh, and lift a whole bunch of weights and do other stuff, too. And that's just one day. It's a workout. But a 100m dash, the actual 100 meters run? It's not a run.
On to the other extreme, neither is a marathon or half-marathon a "run." Those are fucking ordeals. You don't just step out and tell a loved one, Going for a run, be back in a couple hours. You say something like I have to do this stupid thing for a really long time and I'm going to be tired and sweaty and maybe crying a little bit if I've got any salt left in my body when I get back. If I get back. So, I'll see you when I see you. Tell my mom I love her just in case.
People finish marathons and piss blood because they've overextended themselves so much that their muscles are literally decomposing. Some marathoners uncontrollably shit themselves (some also just shit themselves because they're insane). This? This live-action QWOP? It is not normal:
You don't "go for a run" and by the time you finish look like the timeline of human evolution set in reverse.
So "a run" connotes some kind of sustained activity but not too much. If we're setting parameters, I'd say on the low end, a run should be at least a mile. But even that is probably just a little too short. I mean, I'm slow and dumpy and I'm done in 9 minutes if I'm really hauling ass, which I always am when I 'm running shorter distances. And then I pull kind of a snake move and tell people that's my normal pace. It's so much easier to run really, really fast when you know it's going to be over soon. It's not even a brag, it's more a defense mechanism to hide my shame from feeling like I'm a slow fatass.
Still, with a mile, you could get away with qualifying it as a "quick run" or a "short run" and that would be acceptable; manage people's expectations. If you physically can't run a mile, though? Then you didn't go for a run. You did important things and you are busting your ass so that one day you can say to a friend or cherished animal I'll be right back, I'm going for a run and not be a filthy liar, but you did not go for a run. I'm sorry, this is the cost of defining things. Arbitrary and capricious? Maybe. Irrefutable? Definitely.
Ideally, the sweet spot for "a run" is the 5K. A 5K for just a regular person is, what, 25-30 minutes? All things considered, that's pretty good. We're just talking generalities here. I know the NFL likes to pretend it's concerned with getting kids to Play 60 minutes a day, but 30 minutes of working out for an adult with other shit to do is good enough. Maybe you're insanely fit and your warm up is a 5K. Good for you. We're not talking about what's the best workout, we're talking about "a run."
The 5K is the best of both worlds: you get a good sweat going and it's not the fake, fleeting sweat from momentarily running like a madman. It's the real sweat, because you actually ran for an extended period and didn't just empty the tank since you knew it was going to be over in 12 seconds. It sounds real basic—and this is a pretty basic conversation we're having here—but it bears spelling out: the hardest part about running is having to sustain the act of running. Anyone can go balls to wall for a short amount of time. Some will be faster than others, some will be able to do it longer and cover more distance, but you can still run as fast you can for 12 seconds and be OK. Running for a half hour is just more difficult and brings in a variable you don't necessarily have time for in a sprint: your mind.
Not only is running longer distance physically draining, you've got to think about it the whole time, too. That counts for something and it might even be the most important part. That mental fatigue makes you feel like you've accomplished something and that's really what a run is: an accomplishment, a completed task.
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