I used to be one of those people for whom being on time was at least 5 minutes early. But these days, I’m perpetually running late – trying to squeeze in 1 or 2 more things before I leave the house or the office.
Today, I was getting ready to meet the Running for Rare Diseases team for our group run and, having hit the snooze button 1 too many times after getting home about 2 hours too late the night before, I was running behind. But I wasn’t worried; I could just take an Uber cab and be at our meeting place in 10 minutes.
I requested the Uber with 13 minutes to spare. Ugh – I was hoping to request with 15-17 minutes to spare, but I should still be fine. Requesting, requesting, requesting… The app waited about 30 seconds longer than usual which felt like 30 minutes. Finally, yes! A driver accepted and would be here in 5 minutes. I watched as the little black car icon drove in the wrong direction. She was now 7 minutes away. And 5 minutes later, she was still 7 minutes away. I canceled, and realized that by the time I got another Uber, I would definitely be late for the team run. The last thing I wanted was to show up and realize everyone had already left.
Split-second decision: I’m just going to run on my own, starting and ending the run at home. I tried to calculate the number of extra minutes that decision would grant me to do other things I needed and wanted to do in my already too-packed weekend.
Numbers were starting to run my life.
At a track practice the night before, I was figuring out what pace I should be doing my intervals. Based on a particularly good race the previous weekend, I thought I should be running a faster pace than I was actually able to deliver. I started talking about being an inconsistent runner, and how maybe I out-performed my normal abilities during the previous weekend’s race due to being particularly happy and inspired that day, and how maybe I just can’t force it unless I’m inspired and how frustrating that is.
“Just stop talking,” a couple of my friends and teammates said. “Stop analyzing it. I know it’s hard because our sport is so quantitative, but just let it be what it is.”
Running is quantitative. How many times had I calculated the difference between what my weekly mileage was supposed to be and what it actually was? I didn’t run at all on Monday because of blizzard #3 but I moved that 6-miler to Thursday. On Wednesday, my scheduled 8-miler got turned to 5.5 miles because I was running so slowly in the deep snow that I would have been about 1.25 hours late for work instead of just 6 minutes if I didn’t cut it short. Then Thursday came around and the 6-miler I’d moved from Monday turned into only 5 miles. I almost fell 2 times on the black ice covering the sidewalk before I got 0.5 blocks away from my house. I ended up running on the road, and almost got hit by cars 11 times and had to jump into snowbanks to avoid being hit by trucks or buses 4 times.
Sometimes life feels quantitative too. Number of billable hours I cranked out at work. Number of writing projects I completed that I actually felt proud of. Number of cups of coffee and glasses of wine I drank to make it through the week. Number of days I read even a few pages in a book. Number of hours of sleep I managed to get.
But the best things in life, and in running, aren’t quantifiable. And you lose the essence of what makes them special when you’re always calculating, always analyzing, always sizing up how well you’re doing. Just live.
Every time you keep going even when you want to give up because you’re tired and you’re cold and you feel like you’re barely moving forward, that is an experience worth more than numbers can quantify. Every time the lyrics of a song on your running playlist are suddenly imbued with new meaning because you listened to them on a particular run, every time the rhythmic pounding of your feet interrupts your normal thought patterns and results in creativity or clarity, every time your eyes meet the eyes of another runner and you silently convey respect and support and shared enthusiasm, those experiences are the epitome and the soul of running.
Rare disease advocacy has always relied on stories rather than numbers. More common diseases make big, sweeping statements like, “This disease affects 10 million Americans and an estimated 75 million people worldwide.” Rare diseases say, “This is how this disease affected my child. My family. Me.” And then they take the listener into the story and enable them to experience it as well. In that moment of empathy, of new understanding, a profound human connection is forged. Hearing and being pulled into stories like these, people instinctively understand that John Stuart Mill couldn’t be right; it can never be “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Infinity can’t be quantified, and every life is infinitely precious – and therefore life falls outside the system of numbers.