…I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again…
…The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
-Excerpted from the poem To be of use by Marge Piercy
Of all the traits that make long-distance runners so special, perhaps the most impressive to me is the ability and capacity to work hard. Whether naturally gifted with massive physical talent or just a regular Jill or Joe, often the difference I see between committed long-distance runners and the rest of the world is that they embrace and value putting in the work. Even more than that, they enjoy the work.
Now, this is not to say that non-runners do not work hard, not at all, rather the point is that hard work is so essential to the runner’s life that it is almost impossible to be a runner without working hard. As such, most of the runners I know understand that purposeful, consistent labor is just a given. And, in fact, regardless of our differences–physical, emotional, social, spiritual–the capacity for sustained hard work is our great unifier.
Think about the last time you were together with a bunch of runners. What were the topics you discussed? I’d be willing to bet, that in addition to most of the usual–shoes, races, injuries–you eventually settled into reflecting and commenting on putting in the work. Weekly mileage goals, training patterns, and overall volume are all hot topics for us as runners and all represent our values. In a sport that simply rewards regular practice and consistent follow through it is really quite a simple equation: work hard and enjoy satisfaction. The feedback is almost always direct and purposeful.
As Piercy writes so poignantly in her wonderful poem To be of use, “The work of the world is common as mud…” and those of us who run know this intimately. Most days we run not only because we want to but because we have to. It is the work of the world that makes us whole and gives us the ability to sustain ourselves through the rest of our lives. It is work that is real, for sure, but it also work that is cleansing, fulfilling, and transformative. Shared with others, it is ultimately the labor that brings us together as runners and people in ways that few other pursuits do.
And so, friends, as we roll inexorably into the winter months and gear up for next year, continue to embrace work that is real. Continue to harness yourselves to deep toil and lean fully into what comes most difficult. Running gives us a gift that nothing else does and we can receive it every single day. Sometimes it gives and other times it takes away but ultimately, in the end, our meaningful work will not only make us better runners and people but maybe, just maybe, make the the world a bit better too.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego, California (and soon Virginia Beach, Virginia, too). I finally had a chance to taste their award-winning Baltic Porter Cosmic Ristretto and it was outstanding. Deep and dark with a coffee/chocolate flavor, this porter is one of the best I’ve had in a long time, and it rivals my all-time favorite Black Butte Porter from Deschutes.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you agree that we trail and ultrarunners workhorses?
- Does your investment in the ‘work’ of your sport trickle over into the rest of your life? If so, can you describe how?
- Are there ever times when a workhorse mentality does more harm than good?