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January 5, 2009

The Year of Running Perfectly (Well ... Sort Of)

Sometimes these parallels are right under my nose, and I still manage to miss them.

It didn’t occur to me until after I posted our New Year’s article - and remembered another one we had previously written - just how closely the sometimes fickle dedication of runners mirrors the seemingly capricious devotion of religious disciples all over the world. More specifically, I didn’t realize how much the sport of running is like The Year of Living Biblically.

AJ Jacobs’ fascinating book (subtitled One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible) describes – in both hilarious and insightful fashion – how he spent a year trying to follow every one of the Bible’s instructions for daily living. Not just the easy ones (for example, Don’t marry your wife’s sister) or the famous ones (Thou shalt not steal), but also the ones that are frightening (like handling serpents) or inconvenient (leaving your beard untrimmed) or ridiculous (stealing the egg of a mother bird). He wore clothes of unmixed fibers. He took part in an animal sacrifice. He even stoned an adulterer, in a fairly comical way.

Jacobs ultimately reaches the conclusion that no matter how hard someone tries, it’s impossible to follow an absolutely literal interpretation of the Bible even for one day, let alone for a year. Some of the standards are unattainable (try to make it through a day without coveting something), while others are conflicting (should you take an eye for an eye, or turn the other cheek?). It’s simply beyond our human capacities to follow every rule we’re supposed to.

Instead, each of us – either through our own interpretations, or those identified by religious leaders – selects a particular set of rules that we try to follow as closely as possible. We assign a certain hierarchy to those we feel are most crucial (pretty much everyone agrees that murder is wrong), and disregard those of seemingly lesser importance (is it really a crime to plant a garden of two different seeds?)

Shortly after finishing the book, I recalled a Monterey Herald article we wrote two years ago, facetiously instructing runners how to have the perfect day. It was a list of rules culled from all the usual suspects: fitness magazines, health studies, self-help gurus, and conventional wisdom.

The point of the first article was this: obviously, nobody will ever have a perfect day. You pick the rules that are most important to you – those that will have the most impact on your life - and do the best you can to live by them as frequently as possible. Last week’s article was another reminder that just because you let some of those rules slide, it doesn’t mean you should give up trying.

Running isn’t a religion; then again, in some ways, maybe it is. Either way, one thing is certain: between now and the end of June, I need to start following a lot more rules than I have been lately. I know I won’t be perfect – but from this point forward, I vow to remain dedicated to doing the best I can.

Truthfully, that’s all that any of us can pledge to do.

9 comments:

triguyjt 1/6/09, 7:45 AM  

first of all...I read that book and place it in the top 5 I have read the past year or so...very witty... how about not sitting on the same chair that an "unclean" woman had sat on...

but your analogy is right on.. we get so caught up in doing everything just perfect..in following every little part of our regime....
to quote someone..."Next week, I am planning on being spontaneous"

That might be out in left field, but we just gotta look to the important stuff that moves us....and...well.....move!!!

jen 1/6/09, 2:49 PM  

This book sounds really interesting, I'll have to check it out! I agree with the philosophy- have an ideal and do your best within reason to attain it. People get very ambitious this time of year and end up dissapointed, when really we should keep it reasonable and be proud of what we do achieve. :)

David 1/6/09, 6:43 PM  

If running is not religious I am in trouble. I tell everyone my wife attends St. Matress and I go to the Cathedral Church of the Long Run.

21stCenturyMom 1/6/09, 8:25 PM  

What is the quest for perfection of which you speak? I believe I have escaped that bit of self inflicted tyranny.

I'm with you on the training, though. I just started in earnest and the sorness in my legs is reminding me of how hard and how rewarding it is.

robtherunner 1/6/09, 9:06 PM  

And so the journey begins again. I wish you the best of luck in 2009 heading towards the end of June especially. Looks like I have stumbled upon another must read book. Thanks for the tip!

Bruce 1/7/09, 1:04 AM  

Happy new year and all the best for your goals this year.

Ian 1/7/09, 1:50 AM  

I agree with previous posters.. we get fixated on perfection, too busy concentrating on one star that we miss looking at the rest of the sky. Good article again and I'll check that book out as well.
I hope you 09 is a happy and succesful one for you

olga 1/7/09, 10:33 AM  

I read your perfect day description and realized I will need a few extra hours to fit it all in:) So, I'll go un-perfect, but trying my best...thank you very much!

Darrell 1/11/09, 1:37 PM  

I knew you'd come through with a new book club selection. Sadly this 40 hour commitment I have that pays the bills makes it hard to find time for a good book. Maybe I should plan another vacation.

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