Thursday, April 5, 2012

Run, [...], Run!

Something like this, but with more nachos. Source

Yesterday I joined a bevy of IR enthusiasts at a PDDC gathering in the District.

A PDDC gathering, for those of you who have never been, is pretty much exactly like the Council of Elrond, except that instead of hobbits and dwarves and elves, you've got a bunch of young nerds and wonks and academics, and instead of discussing the fate of the One Ring, we talk about international relations and the Nationals. (Go Nats!) Also, there are more nachos.

At one point in the evening I was making small talk with a new acquaintance and he asked me, "So do you run, like all Americans?" And I was a bit thrown because the answer is yes, I do run -- although up until very recently I adamantly did not, unless there was a large and ravenous animal directly behind me. I've always hated running. I find it physically and mentally unpleasant, and I'm terrible at it.

However, earlier this year I was determined that I was going to start running because I hate it and I'm so bad at it. Because now that I'm a comparatively autonomous grown-up, it is very, very rare that I ever force myself to do anything that I a) don't enjoy, and b) am not particularly good at, and I recognize that there are benefits to challenging myself. And so I started running, and after three months of running three to five times a week, I find that it is physically and mentally unpleasant and I am still really bad at it -- but less so.

But the point of this story was the caveat at the end of the question. He didn't ask if I ran, but rather if I ran, like all Americans. And that made me wonder: Is running a particularly American pastime? Is my recent determination to improve my running ability simply a latent manifestation of nationalism?

I suppose there are some elements of running that I'd identify as American. It can be a solitary or group activity, and as a runner you set your own pace, so you've got a lot of flexibility and personal freedom. And it's an activity where you can constantly raise the bar by determining to run faster or further or (in my case) less painfully, so there's always a goal to shoot for. But if you asked me to name the most American form of fitness, I'm not sure running would make the top of my list.

And I certainly can't think of any sports diplomacy parallels involving running that compare to the great moments of ping pong diplomacy or even something as antagonistic as the "miracle on ice."

But then again, there's always this:

And Prince Harry certainly seems to have found a way to capitalize on running's popularity, albeit in a particularly British way. And who could forget this this classic scene? Or  this? Both great examples of running in pursuit of a greater goal; neither American. The more I think on it, the less convinced I am that Americans have got a lock on running, but that doesn't make it any less suited for public diplomacy. In fact, it may do just the opposite.

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