There’s a question for the ages. Does running and riding somehow make you a special person?
That depends on how you define the idea of “special”. So let’s do that. Let’s look at the definition of the word “special” and see how it applies to people who run and ride.
Nothing in any of those definitions really sticks out as applicable to the nature of a distance runner or cyclist, does it? But let’s have a look.
- One could argue that runners and riders are “of a distinct or particular kind of character.”
- One could also argue that endurance athletes are also singular, particular or certain in their nature.
- It is possible that runners and riders are ‘distinctive; unique’ but that would presuppose that other activities in which people engage for enjoyment or self-improvement are not.
- The fourth definition of ‘special’ is ‘having a specific or particular function.’ Well, that’s pretty hard to claim, that our running and riding is a particularly functional part of society. We do it for ourselves, and we do it for others. But you could also not run or ride a day in your life and the world would not collapse.
- The last definition, ‘distinguished from something ordinary or usual’ probably strikes closest to the nature of why people define themselves as a “runner” or “cyclist.”
Getting fit makes us feel good
We like the unusual ways that running and riding make us feel. Getting fit is both a process and an achievement. But it is not a static condition, either. The minute you quit running or riding, that fitness starts to deplete in some way.
That means we’re getting somewhere in terms of understanding the definitions of ‘special’ as it pertains to our favorite activities. See, we have to admit that in the context of millions of other runners and riders worldwide, the actual activities of cycling and running are not that unique and special. If millions do it, the definitions of ‘special’ in the colloquial sense do not apply.
Running and riding in a philosophical context
Yet there remains something ‘special’ about being a runner or rider. So let’s put our finger on it now. Because you need to know this. Everyone does.
Theologically, many religions around the world define human beings as special. Each person is considered unique in the eyes of whatever God they worship. Some elements of the Christian faith even argue that human beings are specially created.
Humanism also defines people as special. That worldview celebrates the idea that each contribution to the human condition is unique and therefore valuable. Collectively, humanism asserts that people can make a difference in the world.
Science puts human beings into a unique category, but not separate from all other living things on earth. We evolved special characteristics that make us human. We also invented the wheel, which every cyclist would agree is a pretty special and vital attribute of their bike.
Religion, humanism and science all agree that humans are unique and perhaps special in some very important ways. Our conscious minds are capable of abstraction and metaphor, creating literature as well as the practically considerate concepts of mathematics, geography, astrophysics and digital communications. All those things are pretty special.
The nature of our pursuits
So when a person sets out for a 10 mile run, what is special about that? Or when a person completes a century ride and looks back at the road they’ve just traveled, is that a special attribute of being human? Of being an individual? Of considering the world in which we live?
The important aspect of this examination of what makes runners or riders special is this: any activity that creates experiences and impressions that are out of the ordinary or unusual is special.
The pursuit of these activities does not necessarily make us special, as in better or worse than other people. Somewhat ironically, it is our shared appreciation of these individual experiences that make running or riding special. In other words, we essentially share in a special world in which we run or ride. It is a world, or a concept perhaps, created out of the desire to live life fully, and with health and awareness. Measurement, achievement and satisfaction also enter the picture.
Those are special attributes we assign to our respective sports. We see them in the signs people place on their cars when they’ve completed a marathon, a century or other goal. 13.1. 26.2. 10K. 5K. Century. All measures of our personal endeavors. Our special efforts to be human and aware.
That is special enough for anyone, and you can feel special for understanding that.
Keeping it in perspective
Just understand that not everyone holds the same values, or cares that you can run 10k or complete a century. The world does not feel you’re special just because you can do those things. Too many other valorous pursuits exist to make running or riding anything close to superior in nature in comparison to; fighting in a war, saving a life, seeing 800 bird species in a year, or giving birth to a new child.
Better to think of yourself as special before you even begin your run or ride. That self-worth you feel in being alive and an individual already puts you in the category of being special, as in being valued. Our Constitutions and other great documents assert as much in guaranteeing the rights of an individual. So you’re special not only when you take flight, you’re special before that.
But the experiences you get by running and riding can be special. And that is why it is worth being a runner or rider.
Enjoy the special nature of your respective sport. But always keep it in perspective. We can loosely quote the famed runner mantra of Forrest Gump: “Special is what special does.” Because we can just as easily be stupid about our favorite sports as we can be smart about them. It’s best not to forget that.
And be careful out there. Not everyone with whom you share the road thinks you’re so special.