Close your eyes and picture yourself doing something fun.
What do you see?
I see myself picking crabs with seven of my favorite people on a screened porch on Labor Day. I see myself watching a Harlem youth choir back up the Lumineers while I’m knee-deep in mud at Governor’s Ball. I see myself drinking a cold beer with friends on a Brooklyn rooftop watching the sun set over Manhattan.
I see you opening your eyes and reading this text even thought I explicitly asked you to keep them closed. Cheater.
Now close your eyes and picture yourself doing something fun – as a nine-year-old. How does the line-up change?
I see myself barreling toward safety on the other side of the flagpole during a summer camp evening of capture the flag. I see myself racing up an alley during a neighborhood-wide game of tag in my Sunday best because my sister and I wanted to play more than we wanted to change. I see myself sprinting down a Delaware beach dragging a kite behind me that – just at the right moment – will catch the breeze and lift off.
There’s nothing wrong with either set of memories, but I can’t help but wonder: when did enjoying ourselves go from an active activity to a stationary one? When did lounging with friends surpass chasing them down in terms of entertainment? When did running stop being “fun?”
As a two-time-marathon hopeful, I can tell you I still enjoy running immensely and for a whole host of reasons. Take Friday’s 17-mile long run, for example. Taking me across a cool and breezy Central Park, down the West Side Highway at sunset, past the World Trade Center and Statue of Liberty, and back up the East Side, I returned to my neighborhood feeling accomplished and strong and refreshed and prepared, not to mention ready to eat a sandwich in bed.
But while my weekend run was a lot of things, would I call it “fun?” Was it “fun” to pace myself with a Garmin for three hours, especially once my legs grew tired? Was it “fun” running past all the outdoor happy hours and live music concerts without stopping? Was it “fun” having the same Barenaked Ladies song stuck in my head from mile 2 to mile 17?
Fortunately, Friday night’s long run wasn’t my only scheduled run this past weekend. I was also slated to run 3.1 miles on Saturday morning, and Saturday’s run wasn’t just any run: it was a color run.
Color runs – untimed events where volunteers throw powered color at you every kilometer, culminating in a tie-dyed 11 a.m. dance party – are a new addition to the racing scene and have garnered mixed responses from the running community, including more revulsion than I’d expected to find. “They aren’t real races,” runners post all over online forums. “They don’t time the race course. They let you bring dogs and strollers. Some people walk the entire thing.”
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t treat Saturday’s 5K like a “real race.” In fact, I hardly followed any of my pre-race rituals.
Usually, I don anti-chaffing wicking gear to stay cool and enhance my performance. On Saturday, I raced in an all-cotton t-shirt – and a tutu.
Normally, I fuel before a race with a banana and peanut butter. On Saturday, I ate pre-race ice cream.
Traditionally, I keep moving through the water stations because I know stopping for even a second will derail my progress. On Saturday, I spent more time sitting on the race course than running on it.
And you know what? As my friends and I crossed the finish line holding hands, covered in paint and laughing our heads off, we turned to each other with the exact same observation on our lips: “My god, that was fun.”
The Color Run organizers are adamant that there are no medals at the end of their event, but reverting to a nine-year-old version of myself who revels in the sheer joy of running sure sounds like winning to me.
How do you keep running fun?