Wed. January 30
Love and a Running Experiment Gone Awry
Last year after the Summer Olympics a few of my graduate students and I were discussing Usain Bolt’s record setting 100-meter dash time of 9.63 seconds and pondering what a normal person’s time might be. After some Google searching, we concluded that fifteen seconds was a reasonable number, and, likely out of a misguided sense of pride, I suggested that I could beat that time. Now mind you I am no athlete and hadn’t run a sprint in decades, but I thought fifteen seconds was a long time–and much to my students’ delight the challenge was on.
A week later about a dozen of us went out to a beat-up high school track, marked off the distance (it’s a lot longer than you think), started up the video camera, and, after a bit of stretching, I left the starting block racing to the finish line. My rusty legs were moving fast on the gravelly track and about halfway in I realized I really shouldn’t be doing this, but I kept going–that is until approximately three meters from the finish line I collapsed onto the track, opening up a few bloody wounds on my hands and arm. I didn’t make it and in the end all that was left was video footage of the run which offers inclusive evidence on how close I was to finishing or if I would have beat the fifteen second time (after viewing the video dozens of times, my estimate is about 14.40 seconds).
Reading Emily Esfahani Smith’s post on love last week made me think back to this event, viewing it as a good analogy for sustaining healthy romantic relationships. My collapse didn’t just happen, it was the culmination of a variety of things that went wrong.
First, I was not prepared–I never did a practice run, was out of shape, and had no knowledge of how to stop my momentum. Like preparing for a race, psychologists have consistently found that people do best in relationships when they are personally ready for them–they are emotionally stable, securely attached, and agreeable.
Second, I chose a terrible partner in my running quest–a rugged high school track that I suspect hadn’t been used in years. Selecting someone who is ready for love is just as important as being ready yourself.
Third, once I actually started the run it didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea what to expect from it–how long it was, how much it would test my coordination, or how to finish it standing up. Knowing what to expect out of long-term relationships–that on average satisfaction goes down over time, passion cannot be permanently sustained, and people change, not always for the better–is key to being realistic about how you and your partner will be long term. Like all of us will do in relationships, I failed in my run and am left with the scar to prove it. But like many relationship scars, my scar is a symbol of what to do different next time.