RUNNING IS THE CANVAS, WRITING IS THE COLORS
By Michael Selman
Who has ever been able to adequately answer the question of
why a runner runs? A singular answer cannot do the query
justice, because everybody runs for different reasons.
Even the same individual runs for different reasons
throughout his or her running career, if, indeed, running
is to endure.
I first started to run primarily for the T-shirts. That's
the honest truth. I was always an avid T-shirt collector to
begin with, and earning the coveted cloak, as opposed to
buying it, added an emotional element to this passion. The
race name, distance and date prominently displayed amongst
the sponsors screamed of a personal victory by its very
Although the connection is still there, a T-shirt alone has
not been enough to endure through these past 15 years on
the roads. The next passion element to this running life
was to better my times. PR's were easily achieved when I
was a rookie. In fact, I could count on lowering the bar
just about every time I raced, for the first few months.
After a few years, PR's faded into memories of faster
times. There still had to be a passion to drive me to
continue. Running had to take on a new meaning for me.
Running became my canvas. A sacred time for me and me
alone, to think about whatever I wanted to think about. I
also discovered, at about the same time, that I could write
about my running thoughts and people would appreciate the
thoughts I was thinking. If running was my canvas, then
the written words that followed must then be my colors.
Funny how I never thought myself the artist, but there was
one, fighting to break out of a linear mold.
A couple of weeks ago, I took a week off from work, so I
could spend time with my daughter, who had flown down from
her home in North Carolina for a visit. She was once
Daddy's little girl, but now, she has grown into quite the
beautiful young woman of 13. As she has matured, we have
grown more distant, which, I suppose is to be expected.
The things that go through a 13-year old girl's mind are
not easily shared with her father.
We planned several things for the week she was here. We
went shopping, which is a passion of hers right now, but we
didn't talk too much. Neither one of us knew quite what
our common ground was any more. We went to Stone Mountain,
and checked out a rock where everybody sticks their gum on
the way up or down the granite trail. Her name, which had
been scrawled with a piece of Juicy Fruit last year when
she was living with me, was still etched in the rock, for
all to see. We laughed at its endurance, but we didn't
talk about anything too important that day. After about
five minutes of walking around the top of the mountain, she
was ready to go. She had seen what she had come for, and
the trip to Stone Mountain was complete. As we drove home,
I was thinking that we should have spent more time there,
and was a little frustrated. We didn't talk much on the
The next day was opening day for Six Flags, so we went.
Everyone else in the Southeastern United States went, too.
It took us an hour and a half to get off the exit to the
park, another half-hour to park the car, and about 45
minutes to purchase our tickets.
Up until the incident I'm about to tell you about, I used
to have a couple of other passions. Waiting in traffic and
waiting in lines. I hated them both with a similar
passion. My daughter and I had already waited in one or
the other for three hours this day, just for the privilege
of entering the park. My daughter, who was bored after five
minutes at Stone Mountain, seemed to be pretty accepting of
this chain of events. I was already fit to be tied.
One inside the park, we got in the first line we saw, which
was for the "Scream Machine." Just as we nudged to the end
of the line an official from the park stated that the wait
from this point in the line was approximately three hours.
Even having already forked over the money, I would have
left in an instant. But I looked at my daughter, and her
eyes told me she wanted to wait. I smiled, and asked her
the one question, which created the most meaningful dialog
that took place between us that week. It was an exchange
which has impacted me greatly since then I asked a simple
question, she gave a simple answer, and my life has
somewhat changed as a result.
My question was simply this. "Why were you ready to leave
Stone Mountain after five minutes, but you are willing to
tolerate traffic and lines for six hours just to ride a
roller coaster?" Her answer was simple, but poignant.
"Because," she said, "There is a reward at the end."
Wow, I thought. All of a sudden, I didn't mind the wait
any more. I was watching my daughter enjoying a passion.
A good, wholesome, gratifying passion. She loves roller
coasters. I always knew that, but I never understood the
passion behind it. From that point on, we talked, we
laughed, and we enjoyed each other's company for the rest
of the day. I could care less about the lines.
I have the same type of passion for running and writing. I
get up at ungodly hours on weekends to drive to places I
never even heard of, just so I can run a race. I plan each
day around when I am going to energize myself with my run.
And then, while I am out there, I absorb every element of
what is out there in the world through all of my senses. I
think about what I can learn from my run, and how I might
be able to look at something differently than I ever have
before. It is all there for me to absorb, every time out.
And then, I write about them.
I thought about my daughter's observation, about the reward
at the end of the line. When I tucked her in to bed that
night, exhausted from our day at Six Flags, she hugged my
neck and said "Dad, I had a great day. Thank you." Was
that my reward at the end of the line? It could have been,
but my reward came long before that. I want to share with
you what my 13-year-old taught me that day.
She taught me not to hate lines so much. Even a marathon
runner does not look at the medal around his or her neck as
the sole reward of a hard fought battle. The prize is
inclusive of so much more than that. The months of
training, and the sacrifices it entails are a big part of
the victory, in reflection. The race itself, from the
starting line to the carrot dangling 26.2 miles away, is,
in essence, " the line." But it's not just a vehicle to an
end. The line, any line, is something to be savored every
step of the way. It's camaraderie with others who are
struggling and hurting every bit as much as you are. Their
reasons for being in the line may be different, but the
pain is shared.
Oh, sweet daughter, I have something to tell you. That day
at Six Flags was much like a marathon. We were on the line
for different reasons. I would not have even been in the
line if not for you. But I got my reward before you did
that day. Just spending those six hours with you before we
ever hopped on the "Scream Machine" has changed the way I
look at lines. I came to understand one of your passions
that day. From that point on, for me, that line was my
whole reason for being there that day. When we finally got
on the roller coaster, you got your reward, too.
And when you hugged me that night, and slowly closed your
eyes with a look of complete contentment, you provided me
with another reward. You had given me the realization that
lines is only a bad thing if you view them that way.
Depending on the angle you choose to observe from, you can
find something positive in anything you encounter. Whether
the reward is at the end of the line, or somewhere within,
you will find it if you look hard enough. Why do I run
these days? Because I choose to view it as a time for
introspection. I take that time to find the positive
elements of a negative situation. I use it as a time to
think about how I can be a better husband, a better father,
a better friend, a better person. I find closure to things
in my running, and I also create new thoughts. I run
because there is always something to learn while you are
running, if you go in to it with an opened mind. I run
because it is a passion.
Why do I write? Because I have an ability to do so in a
way that people can relate to. I like to elaborate on my
thoughts through the words I create. I always learn
something about myself when I write. If I can touch and
enrich someone else with my writing, then I have been a
successful writer. I write because it is a passion.
My running is my canvas. The words I write are my colors.
I hope you enjoy the pictures I draw.