We Are Running Nowhere

Here’s a strange thing I did a couple weeks ago: I left my house in running clothes, with a couple packages and envelopes in my hand, and ran to the nearest post office a couple miles away. I walked in, dropped the packages off, walked back out, and ran another four miles before I went home. Very simple, but I felt like a genius, sort of multitasking exercise with an office task, killing two birds with one stone, insert dad joke about “running errands” here.

I do this every once in a while: I actually run somewhere to do something besides just run. The post office, the ATM, or the grocery store to pick up one thing I can carry home in my hand. But most of the time, like probably everybody else who runs, I run nowhere.

I start and stop my runs at the same place: My house, or my car parked at a trailhead. I run around for hours, sometimes in circles, and when I finish, I have burned hundreds or thousands of calories, and I end up exactly where I’ve started, except the sun has moved several degrees across the sky and the temperature has changed. A few weeks ago, I did a long run around the park near my house, eight laps, passing the same group of people sitting in the grass, who were taking turns standing up holding a cardboard sign asking passing motorists for change and/or food. Lots of people would say I was being “productive” and they were not, but every time I passed, I thought, “Those people must think I am a complete idiot, and they are right. It’s 89 degrees out here.” In the time I spent running, they probably made a few dollars. I made zero dollars. If you factor in the energy blocks I ate while running and the depreciation of my running shoes, I actually lost money on the whole thing.

When I got home from my run, my dog greeted me, tail wagging, and, being a dog, was unsure if I had been gone for 30 minutes or four and a half hours, or if I had run three miles or 26 miles. To my dog, and really, to the rest of the society I live in, it really didn’t matter much if I had run at all. For all my dog knew, I could have been spreading mulch in the front yard for 20 minutes before I came in the door, or maybe just standing out there thinking about taking him for his next walk. To him, and really, in the grand scheme of things, I hadn’t gone anywhere at all.

Here is a cartoon about running:


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I am not a nihilist, I don’t think. To me, there’s a point to all this running, or at least a few benefits, like the ability to eat more pizza and not gain (too much) weight, and spending chunks of time purposely not looking at a computer or phone screen. But you have to admit, it’s a lot of travel. According to my Strava log, with all the miles I’ve run nowhere this year, I could have left my house in Denver on January 1 and I’d almost be to Washington D.C. right now. But here I am, standing at my house.

I use an app to keep track, via a complex satellite communication system, how much I’ve run nowhere every time I go out. I do this to keep track how prepared (or unprepared) I will be for my next race, an event in which I will get together with dozens or thousands of people to run nowhere, theoretically as fast as we can.

All these runners, as well as millions of people around the world, make running nowhere a priority in their lives. In order to make time for running, most of us take steps to make the rest of our lives efficient: shortcuts, techniques, apps, and inventions that ensure we will have a few hours per week free so we can run around instead of, say, making bread from scratch or chopping firewood. And then we run, not to get from Point A to Point B, but from Point A back to Point A.

Objectively, we have traveled nowhere. But I continue to run, because I still feel like I’m getting somewhere.


More stories like this in my new book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, out now.