Lest anyone be confused, I want to be clear that the Slowrunner’s Manifesto is not about plodding along at low speed any more than the Slow Food Manifesto is about chewing your food for a long time. It is about savoring the experience and running (or eating) with attention and appreciation. I am genuinely slow, but if you run with attention and appreciation while running neck and neck with Eliud Kipchoge, you can be a slowrunner too (and a badass, by the way).
If you just want the “manifesto” without all the explanation of why I wrote it, just skip the part in italics and go straight there.
Why the Slowrunner’s Manifesto?
As a nineteen-year-old athlete, Kilian Jornet wrote out and taped to his fridge The Skyrunner’s Manifesto. It has a lot of lines like, “Kiss the glory or die trying,” “Losing is death, winning means breathing,” or “Make your opponents suffer, kill them,” or “You have to fight until death. Glory is the greatest thing,” and so on. It may have motivated young Kilian, but I can’t relate to it. That may explain why Kilian is the greatest mountain runner in history and I am not. There might be a genetic component too.
I recently tired of my usual and ended up binge-listening to and loving running podcasts: Some Work All Play and Trailrunner Nation above all. I’ve learned a lot, feel like I’ve become more inury-resistant through what I’ve learned, and they have motivated me to run more.
At the same time, I also have a nagging feeling of being a bit out of step with most running podcasts, magazine and books. I find it strange how much runners focus on competition. This is simply not true of my traditional core sports, climbing and skiing. Sure, there are climbing comps and ski races, and I even spent a fair bit of my youth ski racing, but most climbers and skiers not only do not compete, they don’t even follow the competitive aspect of the sport. Pick up a climbing or ski magazine and you are unlikely to find any mention of tips for preparing for your next comp. Personally, I cannot name a single competitor on the World Cup circuit in climbing and the only current skiers I can name are Jessie Diggins and Mikaela Shiffrin and I can’t even spell their names without looking them up. And yes, despite not being able to spell her name, being happily married, much too old, and knowing virtually nothing about her, obviously I have a crush on Jessie Diggins, just like almost everyone, male or female who has ever seen her in a post-race interview.
So while I have loved these podcasts, there is a part of the competition and performance focus that leaves me feeling like an outsider in the running community. With that in mind, I wanted to write my manifesto. As with Kilian’s manifesto, this is aspirational. I am not always as in the moment in practice, but I try. I never seek to make anyone else suffer. Just me.
And before I let you go, if you have not seen Britney Runs a Marathon you will not get the reference to being passed by a bunch of preschoolers on a rope. Click that link now, then rewind and watch the whole trailer and put it on your watch list. Also, if you have not recently read Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese and David Wagoner’s poem Lost, read them now because, frankly, they are more worthy of your time than this is.
And, without further ado…
The Slowrunner’s Manifesto
You are the Slowrunner. You do not run for podiums or FKTs. You rarely even run for PRs anymore. You run to run, to feel the trail unfurl beneath your feet, to feel your lungs inflate and deflate, to feel part of the natural world around you, to let “soft animal of your body” feel what it feels. One foot in front of the other. “You do not have to be good.”
Your only opponent is the voice inside your head. The voice says, “It’s raining” or “It’s cold” or “It’s hot.” You know it always looks worse from your comfy house. The voice says, “People are watching. Go faster!” You answer, “I am running my run, nobody else’s.”
You savor this run. You lose yourself in your thoughts and in the forest. It’s okay. “The forest knows where you are. Let it find you.” Even when it hurts, you feel your feet moving, your heart beating, your life flowing through you. You only have so many days to be in this body and do this thing, feeling this ground under these feet.
You run today in thanks and praise for that past self who preserved this vehicle. You run today to pass down the vehicle to your future self in the best possible condition. You will not fuck that up because someone just passed you, maybe even a bunch of preschoolers on a rope. You are not here to pass people. You are here to pass time, to appreciate the one or two thousand runs you have left in this short, precious life.
You run in the sunshine so that your future self has the legs and the lungs to run in the sunshine. You run in the rain so that when rain falls on your life trail, you can say, “I know rain. I can keep going.” You run in the dark so that when darkness falls on your life trail, you can say, “I know the dark. I can keep going.” Until one day the dark falls and the sun doesn’t rise. When that day comes, you can meet the final darkness knowing that you did not waste your days.
You can race. You can try for podiums and FKTs and PRs. You can run to stay fit for climbing and skiing, to stay fit into old age. But really, truly, you climb to climb. You ski to ski. You run to run. You are playing the infinite game, the game whose purpose is not to win or lose, but simply to continue playing the game. You run because it feels good. Even in pain and hunger and fatigue and dehydration and cold and heat and darkness and the utter boredom and mental fatigue that sets in after hours on the trail, it feels good. Maybe especially then. You don’t know how to explain it.
You don’t have to.
You just know that you will step out the door and put one foot in front of the other for the simple and perverse purpose of ending up back where you started, day after day, year after year, decade after decade. Slowly it changes you, usually for the better, sometimes for the worse, one grain of sand at a time. Each grain is so small, but over the years and decades those grains pile up into something substantial, profound, an invisible life’s work that makes you proud, makes you happy. And so it goes, one foot in front of the other, at your pace, to end up in the same place, just because and for no other reason. You are the Slowrunner.