Run Your Own Run

I was unfamiliar with the phrase “hike your own hike” until reading Andrew Skurka’s The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide late this summer. In the introduction, Skurka explains,

It’s not as widely recognized but it ought to be: There are differences in backpacking styles. Most backpackers associate more strongly with one approach or the other (focusing on the hiking or the camping aspect) but ultimately prefer a balance.

No backpacking style is superior. “Hike your own hike,” the refrain goes. And it is not permanent: Your style may change based on the circumstance and your company.

It turns out that “hike your own hike” is prevalent enough within the thru-hiker community that it can simply be referenced by its acronym, HYOH. Abbreviated or not, the HYOH concept succinctly summarized a point I’ve long pondered and, indeed, hoped to write about–namely, run your own run and let others do the same.

In a blog post, Joe Omundson summarized two principles of hike your own hike as “Do things your own way; don’t copy someone else” and “Don’t try to tell other hikers how to hike.” On the first point, he notes that some hikers do a great deal of research into other hikers’ strategies and approaches, and that this is a useful starting point for them. However, he goes on to explain, “it’s also important not to be too set on following anyone else’s example…. Instead of mimicking what other successful hikers have done, learn to listen to your own body to tell you what’s working and what’s not.” On the latter, outward-focused point Omundson writes, “Occasionally I met hikers who seemed to have a religious adherence to a certain hiking style. When they met someone who did it differently, they would go out of their way to try and promote their own methods and discourage alternatives.” He expands on that by explaining,

In everyday life, it is safe to assume that there’s a deeper story behind the choices people make. Trying to help people by correcting their surface level actions misses the whole point of being compassionate. People benefit more from loving acceptance and a healthy example than they do from criticism or preaching.

While I’m guessing it’s implicit in the HYOH concept, for my purposes here I’d explicitly expand it to include motivations and other internal aspects that go beyond physical aspects like what gear to use, how to fuel, and how quickly to move through the environment. Whether hiker or runner, I think we all lace up our shoes and head out the door for our own very different reasons.

Indeed, many of us run with our distinct methods, style, and approach. Sure, we learn from others, but we then adapt that knowledge to fit our own needs and experiences and motivations. We’re an experiment of one and an ongoing experiment. Following others’ advice too closely can mean missing out on figuring out and implementing what actually works best for us. Even the “what’s best” for us is an aspect for which you can and should run your own run. For me, this is one of the most beautiful aspects of running, especially within the ultrarunning community which often embraces experimentation in many aspects of our running.

As we embrace running our own run, we should also take care to let others run their own run. We all enjoy running in different places and at different paces and I firmly believe that no one type of running is better than another, be it short and steep, flat and fast, or meandering of the middle ground. We should take care in not supposing how and where we run is better than anyone else’s way.

I think it’s even more important that we’re aware of respecting others’ approaches to and motivations for running. For example, the negative aspect of this can be embodied in the pacer/no-pacer debate. Certainly, there’s space to discuss whether a championship race or an event through a wilderness area should allow pacers. However, if pacers are allowed at an event, shouldn’t we equally accept the paced and the pacerless? Similarly, shouldn’t we equally accept another person’s finish or DNF? What’s more personal than deciding when it’s right or not right to continue on in an undertaking so fraught with challenges as an ultramarathon. I’m guessing that each of us has a multitude of reasons for why we race and that these reasons even differ for us from race to race. Finishing each and every race he or she starts might very well be of the utmost importance to one runner while being of no real concern to another. To each, run your own race.

I’ll admit that I sometimes have trouble letting others run their own run. For example, I personally have difficulty accepting superlatives when it comes to running. Toughest, longest, fastest, highest, whatever-est don’t resonate with me. Perhaps, it’s because such pursuits identify the superlative characteristic at issue as the defining characteristic of running and that makes me uncomfortable. However, I must recognize that some runners are inherently motivated by that very thing: the superlative, the taking of any one thing to its extreme and exploring it, embracing it, overcoming it, or any other of a multitude of approaches. To them, go for it. Run your own run!

So, when considering others’ running, rather than judge how or where or why they’re running, perhaps we should look to see those characteristics that differ from our own and marvel at the multitude of motivations that bring us all to put one foot in front of the other. See how others go about running their own run and, then, go out there and RYOR!

Call for Comments

  • Do you ever get caught up in running in others’ styles?
  • Are you guilty of projecting your own run on others and judging them against it?
  • How do you keep yourself focused on running your own run?
  • How can we better celebrate the diversity of running in general and, individually, our differences?

N.B. I don’t believe that HYOH includes and RYOR should include a license to let your outdoor recreation negatively interfere with the experience of other trail users or the natural environment.