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The inner Penguin

I no longer believe speed is any reason to deny some runners the joy of being Penguins.

I'm a '90s guy. Or at least I was. That all seems so 20th century now. I'm not ready to call myself a "zero" guy, but I'll bet there are others who might. I know all about male bonding, I'm in touch with my feminine side, and I'm way too familiar with my inner child. But I'm just learning how to approach my inner Penguin.

At first, I didn't even know there was an inner Penguin. I thought that being a Penguin was about being satisfied with what I had, about finding joy in the moment - and the movement - of running. I thought that being a Penguin meant looking past others' expectations and getting to the truth about myself. I thought that being a Penguin was about being slow.

Not long ago a 32-minute 10-K runner introduced himself to me as a Penguin. I was astonished. He had talent, skill, and the body of an elite runner. How could he be a Penguin? I thought he was just being kind, so I told him that he must be wrong.

"No," he said, smiling. "I don't run like a Penguin, but I'm in touch with my inner Penguin." He went on to say that he struggled against his limitations just as I did. He was honest enough to tell me of his frustration as he tried to break the 35-minute barrier, and then 34 and 33. As he talked about his training, he was telling me about himself.

He explained that there were days he would cruise through a run at 6:30 pace, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the day. That, he said, was his inner Penguin at work. I explained that I, too, often cruised through runs, but at something like a 12-minute pace. That, I told him, was my inner Penguin at work, and my outer Penguin at play.

As we laughed I began to understand that we were talking about the same phenomenon. We were both talking about releasing ourselves from the pressures of training, from the demands of travel and schedules, and allowing ourselves simply to enjoy the most fundamental component of being a runner: running.

That day I learned I have more in common with a 6-minute miler than with someone who has never tasted his own sweat. I learned that I have more in common with a sub-3-hour marathoner than with someone who has never felt the flush of achievement or the ache of failure. I learned it's what goes on in our souls that unites us as runners - and as Penguins.

Since that encounter I view those runners in front of me somewhat differently. I no longer believe their speed is any reason to deny them the joy of being a Penguin. I now see that it is possible to increase your speed or increase your distance without losing sight of the essential pleasure of running.

This insight has forced me to rethink some of my goals and aspirations. I've always feared reaching for my running potential because I thought it would mean losing the pleasure. I've been afraid to let go of my comfort, to find the limits of my body and mind. I thought it would mean I was no longer a Penguin.

But I now see that being a Penguin is more about what's inside than out, more about what we feel than what we accomplish, and more about what we can achieve than what we can't. Being a Penguin isn't about what we do; it's about why we do it.

Waddle on, friends.

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