The Rules of the Game

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Pittsburgh Half Marathon, 2009

In the book Run Forever, author Amby Burfoot relates a revealing anecdote about his longtime friend Dave McGillivray.  Both are lifelong runners, running dozens of Boston Marathons between them, among a slew of other running accomplishments.

For many years, Dave McGillivray ran his age in miles on his birthday. For many of us, myself included, this is an unimaginable feat—for example, to run forty miles on your fortieth birthday.  But for these guys, it’s doable.

For a time.

But age catches up with us all. On his sixtieth birthday, McGillivray ran sixty miles.  But it was getting tougher.

At this point, McGillivray had a few options for this sixty-first birthday. He could’ve gone out and ran as many miles as he was comfortable running and called it a day.  He could’ve told himself he’d never make sixty-one miles and forgotten the whole thing and spent the day on the couch eating birthday cake.  He could’ve gotten depressed about his age, and stewed about the things he could no longer do.

Or, he could’ve gone out and run sixty-one miles come hell or high water—injuring himself, exhausting himself, or just plain making himself miserable.

That’s normally how we frame things, isn’t it? Give up or die trying.

But McGillivray come up with a new option. On his sixty-first birthday, he covered sixty-one miles.  But instead of just running, he combined sixty-one miles of running, bicycling, and swimming.

His own personal birthday triathlon.

“This is my game,” Dave McGillivray said. “I get to make the rules.”

This is my game. I get to make the rules.

I love this attitude. It’s optimistic, positive, and realistic.

I read a lot of books about running and writing, and it’s amazing how similar they can be. Good running advice applies to writing, and good writing advice applies to running.  It’s about consistency.  Goal setting.  Listening to your body and your heart.  Balancing achievement with joy.  Pushing yourself but still remembering why you started both in the first place—because you love them.

Good writing advice and good running advice is also good life advice.

This is my game. I get to make the rules.

I can’t think of a better credo to write by, run by, or live by. So find your game, and make your rules.  Make them hard, but fair.

And then play your heart out until you hit the tape.

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