I’m fairly certain that if Socrates, Aristotle, Democritus, and the rest of the groovy bearded philosophers in ancient Greece had occasionally hiked up their togas and gone for a nice morning run, they would have resolved some of the issues they were always debating. I mean, sitting on some stone steps and chatting with your friends is nice, but going for a run with them? That’s putting your drachma where your mouth is.
Running removes filters, both verbal and physical. It woos us from standing guard over the more respectable front we keep up in accordance with social mores. It eliminates affectation. It exposes posers. When we run, our character is revealed for what it is, either directly through a physical war of attrition or surreptitiously through the cloak-and-dagger revelation of monotony and extended periods of uncensored conversation. I mean, sure Epicurus preached hedonism and pleasure, but did anyone ever strap a pair of lightweight training sandals on his feet? How ironic would it have been if he ended up being the pace-pusher in the group? You know, the guy who’s like, “Oh, no. I’m not gonna run fast today. You guys go on ahead. I’m just gonna take it easy.” And then he takes off at six-minute pace.
Because that’s totally something I can see Epicurus doing. Aponia, schmonia.
Where was I? (My apologies. I’m forever getting distracted by Greek philosophers. And baked goods. Mostly baked goods.) Ah, yes. The revealing qualities of running.
Running is such lovely illustrator of life, human nature, and the many and diverse facets of the two. In a single race, we can see qualities that are attractive, qualities we’d like to emulate, qualities we’d like people to see in us, and qualities that we wouldn’t. We learn about ourselves, and we learn about others. We learn that no lesson is isolated to the miles, but that our decisions and actions carry over into every other area of our lives. How we are molded and shaped on the road is not undone when we kick off our running shoes.
A while ago, I went running with a certain trio of ladies who happen to be very speedy. Like, seriously speedy. One is a 2:40 marathoner who raced the Olympic marathon trials. Another was training for the Olympic trials in the steeplechase. And the other is a high jumper who, you guessed it, also was in training for the Olympic trials.
For eight miles, we ran and talked and laughed. It was a Sunday morning recovery run. No one was there to set any records—and I mean that literally since the three of them had already done so in their respective careers. I was by far the slowest and least accomplished runner in the group. They were elites. The last race I had run was a 5K in which I wore plaid underpants over my tights.
But not only would you have thought I was on par with my running companions, but you would never have known my running companions were speedy at all. There was no braggadocio, no subtle allusion to PRs, no bashful acknowledgement of past accomplishments, no mentions of anything that would suggest the elite. The Olympic trials never surfaced. Total miles never cropped up. Instead, we talked about the joy of running and the thrill of competing and our anxiety before tough workouts and our perpetual fear of bathroom disasters.
But just because they stored their speed in the shadows didn’t make their abilities any less impressive. Actually, it was quite the opposite.
There is something about humble strength that draws people. I truly believe quiet confidence is one of the most attractive and admirable qualities a person can possess.
Remember that scene in Crocodile Dundee II, when Mick and Leroy go into the sketchy bar to recruit a gang of kids to help them rescue Linda Kozlowski? The so-called thugs are all about broadcasting their superior toughness to the world. This being the case, they sport leather jackets and Mohawks and go so far as to give themselves terrifying nicknames, such as “Rat.” Braggadocio abounds throughout the entire scene as they establish their badness by irreverent gum chewing and a uniform refusal to enunciate the “g” in progressive tense verbs.
“What are your chances?” the aforementioned Rat asks after Mick succinctly presents his plan of attack.
“What are your chances of gettin’ outta here with that jacket on?” inquires a round-faced teenager sporting a voluminous Mohawk (also aforementioned).
At this, Mick—who has been soft-spoken and self-assured, content to let the gang members continue in their hubristic ways—looks down with unruffled poise. He then proceeds to fling a ten-inch outback bowie knife across the room, straight through Mr. Mohawk’s eponymous hairdo.
“Better than average.”
And just like that, Mick earned the respect of the entire hooligan gang.
Over twenty-five years after the original Crocodile Dundee was released, people still quote the famous line, “That’s a knife.” Why? Because there’s something about quiet confidence and unassuming strength that is, quite simply, totally awesome.
Anyone can impress with ability, but ability coupled with humility commands respect.
A while back I read a quote that struck me as rather profound: “Wear your learning like a pocket watch and keep it hidden. Do not take it out to count the hours, but give the time when you are asked.” (Turns out the quote was from a certain Lord Chesterfield, an 18th century British statesman who had nothing to do with Chesterfield Valley or Chesterfield Mall.) In short, actions trump words. Every time.
It may have been a short jaunt through Chesterfield Valley (ironically, enough), but the three speedy ladies beautifully demonstrated the power of quiet confidence. They wear their speed like a pocket watch, keeping it hidden until someone asks the time. (Or, in their case, until the gun goes off.)
Humility and ability are not mutually exclusive; instead, the former magnifies the latter. Exhibitionism is for amateurs. Real ability should be worn like Mick’s knife. Don’t fling it through a Mohawk until someone threatens to take your jacket.
Or something like that.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.