Running Writing ©
No. 31    January 2001
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Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Photographs

kerryn mccann (54k)
A fall after 8km in the women's marathon. Australia's Kerryn McCann runs in the pack which includes winner Naoko Takahashi from Japan

cathy freeman (45k)
The defining moment of the 2000 Olympics - Cathy Freeman winning the women's 400 metres final

cathy freeman - olympic champion (35k)
Cathy Freeman at the medal ceremony shown on the big screen in Stadium Australia

tatiana grigorieva (36k)
Tatiana Grigorieva - a surprise silver medallist in the women's Pole Vault

georgie clarke (50k)
Heat 2 of the women's 1500m included Australia's Georgie Clarke, eventual silver medallist Kelly Holmes and legally blind US runner Marla Runyan

gabriela szabo (54k)
Suzy Favor Hamilton leads heat 1 of the women's 1500m. Also running were Portugal's Carla Sacramento and Romanian Olympic 5000 metre winner Gabriela Szabo

matt shirvington (55k)
Australia's Matt Shirvington in lane 3 runs the first round of the men's 200 metres

marion jones (50k)
Marion Jones from the USA - a superstar of the 2000 Sydney Olympics running in the first round of the women's 200 metres

melinda gainsford-taylor (43k)
Australia's Melinda Gainsford-Taylor qualifies in heat 4, round 1 of the women's 200 metres

reuben kosgei (52k)
Round 1 of the men's 3000 metre steeplechase featured eventual gold medallist Reuben Kosgei, 21, from Kenya

women's 10,000m (56k)
Australians Natalie Harvey and Clair Fearnley in heat 1 of the women's 10000 with eventual winner Derartu Tulu from Ethiopia

paula radcliffe (65k)
Paula Radcliffe wearing long socks in heat 2 of the women's 10000. She lead much of the final at Olympic record pace but placed fourth

suzy favor hamilton (41k)
Suzy Favor Hamilton leads the women's 1500m final with 500 metres to run. Eventual winner Nouria Merah-Benida runs in 5th place. Bronze medallist Gabriela Szabo is not in the picture after nearly falling whilst silver medallist Violeta Szekely runs third

hicham el guerrouj (39k)
The upset of the games: Hicham El Guerrouj leads with 300m to run from surprise winner Noah Ngeny and fellow Kenyan Bernard Lagat who placed third.

steve moneghetti (43k)
Steve Moneghetti is 13 kilometres into his farewell run. After four Olympics, Steve closed the curtain on a glorious career with a 10th place finish

women's marathon (54k)
Kerryn McCann is still in the pack after the Centennial Park loop of the Sydney Olympic Games Marathon

All Runners are 'Self Actualised'

by Steve Walker

Steve Walker is a guy who loves to run. He lives with his family in Oxford, Massachusetts and publishes 'thematic essays concerning life and running' on his website. One of Steve's essays is featured here in the first issue of Running Writing for 2001.

I get mostly positive feedback from these manic diatribes that I author each week, although there are some who challenge me on even the least arguable topic. I suspect that this week's sermon titled 'All Runners are Self Actualised' will collect a higher percentage of disagreement. I say bring it on.

But, before I begin, I'd like to take the opportunity to make the following announcement:
I am completely certain that what you are about to read here is valid and true. As you absorb this material, understand that I am not so much making a case for all runners, as I am stating clear and inarguable facts. You are invited to disagree about the possibility of life on other planets, the existence of God, and the fact that man indeed can live on tofu alone. On THIS topic, however: "That all runners live in a state of self actualisation", you are NOT entitled to an opinion. You are not invited or even qualified to state any opposing beliefs on this matter. If you're not a runner, you couldn't possibly understand, so don't even bother.
You see, I've got it all figured out. Running did that for me. Before running I was an overweight, workaholic, middle management asthmatic with a cholesterol level of 193 mg/dL and an HDL of 27.

Seventy pounds later, with cholesterol level of 157 (HDL 47), a body mass index of 24, and only 13% body fat, I'm now employed as a consulting senior network analyst, working mostly from home, and have become a running machine. But health is only part of the story.

I'm happier. My family is happier. My marriage is stronger, my career is better, and my life is complete.

Sounds pretty good, huh? Read on, it gets better.

Let me tell you a little something about the humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow and his "Hierarchical Theory of Needs".

Now, in the late 1960's, Abe came up with this really cool theory which basically says "people who strive to reach the highest levels of their capabilities are fully functional beings with a healthy personality." Maslow called people like this 'self actualised'. A person who is self-actualised has found his or her 'calling' in life. They are doing what they were born to do.

And in the words of the great Bruce Springsteen:
"Baby, I was born to run".

Stay with me here, this is important.

My man Abe believed that there were certain characteristics, which all self-actualised people possess. Since this essay is dedicated to the self-actualised aspects of distance runners, I'll modify Maslow's definition so as to cite examples with regards to my passion:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs with Distance Runners

1. Physiological: The distance runner is always fully hydrated, and maintains a healthy diet of complex carbohydrates prior to any race, supplementing the body with fuel needed to endure. While we suffer during our weekly long distance runs, we know that our physiological needs will be met. A cold beverage, hearty nourishment, a cool shower, and well-earned comfort is the reward which awaits us at the end of the run.

2. Safety: In a race, the body is under intense stress and the body suffers. Runners have an uncanny ability to recognise danger. We have a keen perception of reality, and have no fear in a race or on a daily run with snarling canines nipping at our feet. We have a heightened awareness of how far we can push, how fast we can move, and we do so with superior efficiency.

3. Love, Affection and Belongingness: We seek a connection with other runners, and do so almost telepathically during a race. On the starting line for the for the 1952 Olympic Marathon in Helsinki, the Czech distance runner Emil Zatopek turned to his fellow runners and said "Men, today we die a little". He was expressing his admiration for his competitors, and acknowledged that, at the starting line, they each shared a bond unlike those of ordinary people. As a runner, I have the respect of my fellow runners, and the love of my supporting family who encourage me to meet my challenges.

4. Esteem: Despite our sometimes-undernourished thinness and scrawny upper bodies, long distance runners are at peace with themselves and the world. We have no guilt about our running. Henry David Thoreau was basically a distance runner, who wrote "I inhabit my body with inexpressible satisfaction: both its weariness and its refreshments".
We have self respect, and enjoy the respect of others, especially other runners. One of the greatest compliments I ever got was at the end of a five mile road race on Thanksgiving Day, when a runner I had passed a few hundred yards from the finish came over to me, held out his hand and said "Hey, nice kick you've got there". We have pride in our accomplishments.

5. Self-actualisation: We runners are motivated to grow, improving with each run, setting personal records with each race. We will not be constrained by conventional wisdom that seeks to limit us. I'd rather be out running in a heat wave, than suffering the mind numbing boredom of television. Runners are on a mission. We are devoted to our training, and find few obstacles to our daily runs.
Distance runners savor the solitude of a run without others. Alone with our thoughts, we are never lonely. On the road, or in a race, we are solely responsible for our own actions and reactions. George Sheehan wrote:
"I like being alone. I enjoy my own company. I am satisfied running the roads far from any other human being. For me loneliness is the desirable state. Solitary confinement, a touch of heaven. I am never bored. People and the pain they cause are what I cannot stand. The pain of relationships made and broken. The pain of leaving. The pain of being left."
Runners live in the now. My last marathon is of minor importance, my next race is not of immediate concern. When I run I am no longer just an American, a Scottish/Italian Catholic or an engineer. I am here, and now running up THIS hill. This is my only reality. I am in complete agony, suffering more than is possible, and in the end, when I reach the summit I'll have many more miles to go, and will savor every step. Runners live life to the fullest. We 'biff', and are constantly in search of the ultimate 'biff'.

We are devoted to our running, and running is precious to us. We continue to grow and improve. Self-actualisation is a lifelong pursuit. I have already run a marathon, and I am now an acknowledged distance runner... but as Robert Frost wrote, I have "miles to go before I sleep".

Before I became a runner, I was a certified sociopath. I had little self-esteem despite my professional, financial, and personal successes. As a distance runner I have become one of Maslow's "fully functional human beings". I've found that thing that I am best suited for. I have discovered myself. I know who I am, and what I'm supposed to do. Aside from God's primary purpose for me: to be a good husband and father, I've figured out what He wants me to achieve.

He wants me to run.

A few of you may be sitting there with your greasy paws stuffed into a bag of generic ruffled potato crisps, sputtering "Just because you say your self-actualised doesn't make you self actualised!" You'll type me a few grammatically challenged fragmented dangling participles suggesting that I've used the faulty reasoning: "Argumentum ad ignorantiam": A thing is true because it hasn't been proven false.

My response?
  1. I'm right about this one.
  2. I don't really care, and it doesn't really matter, what you think about this, and
  3. Deal with it.
So there you have it. The solution is clear for anyone in need of a purpose for living. Find yourself on the road. Train your body to overcome the limitations that years of sedentary living has cursed you with. Become a self-actualised creature, living your brief moment of life on this tiny sphere in the vastness of space with all the joy of an infinite universe. Live, love, and...


Steve Walker
Oxford, MA.
May 13th, 2000


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