Years before I was a runner, I was neck deep in a love affair with movies. A friend of mine exposed me to a cheesy mash-up of a movie called 'The Last Dragon'. Think kung-fu meets blaxploitation meets quasi-musical and you've got the thrust of it.
A young African-American named 'Bruce Leeroy' (guffaw) is being trained by the stereotypical 'master' in the art of kung fu. Leeroy is good, VERY good, but has yet to reach 'the final level' and obtain the power of 'the glow'. This mystical power is apparently granted to only a true martial arts master.
The film opens with Leeroy running a gauntlet of unbelievable kung-fu tests including karate chopping an arrow in half in midflight as well as catching an arrow with his bare hand. From an outsider's perspective, this kid is a master and probably could give Bruce Lee a run for his money.
But, Bruce Leeroy doesn't feel like a 'master'. His master effectively tells him he's done teaching him and Leeroy is despondent believing that he has somehow failed him. Sensing Leeroy's disappointment, his master sends him on a quest (which turns out to be a red herring) to find another master who can teach him what he needs to reach the final level.
Throughout the film, Leeroy finds himself in all kinds of ridiculous situations including running afoul of 'Sho'nuff' (the Shogun of Harlem), an evil and merciless kung-fu master who seeks nothing other than to fight Leeroy and prove he's the 'master'.
Only in the latter stages of the film (when Leeroy is inches from defeat at the hands of 'Sho'Nuff') does he finally have a moment of clarity and realize that he was the master all along and as soon as he has this epiphany he attains 'the glow' and wraps the film up by defeating Sho'Nuff and catching a bullet in his teeth, a completely plausible scenario for one who has 'the glow'.
So, what possible connection does this ridiculous film (that's actually being remade with Samuel L. Jackson) have to do with running? Well, Leeroy is IMMENSELY talented and EXTRAORDINARILY committed to his training. Everyone around him thinks he's a 'master'. But, Leeroy (for reasons that are not entirely clear) simply does not see himself this way. He doesn't BELIEVE he's a master.
With running, you have a handful of factors that contribute to race day success. Putting in the work and doing the training is invaluable. No one would argue otherwise. Without the miles and the development of the relevant physiological systems, you can't perform well.
You also have planning and preparing for the race. Knowing the in's and out's of the course and planning for the ups and downs that will occur en route to the finish line is requisite for a positive experience on race day. It's about knowing your opponent...so to speak.
Then there's 'the glow', the 'x factor', the 'extra gear', or whatever you choose to call it. In 'The Last Dragon' they refer to 'the glow' as an inner strength you'll find in time of need. In Leeroy's case (and in the case of just about everyone), the glow is really the 'belief' in self. This is what enables you to do remarkable things.
In the case of running, the glow enables you to go that extra mile even when you feel like you're at death's door. The glow makes you knock out one more interval at your target pace. The glow is what makes you transcendent.
The glow brings everything together. Ultimately it is the holy trinity comprised of training, planning, and belief in self (aka-the glow) that makes all great races possible. Of all the aforementioned, it's the last one that's toughest to obtain and most necessary to have a peak performance on race day.
Obtaining this belief in self is tough because it's not necessarily tangible and somewhat ephemeral. You can't point to a training diary and find it. You can know every inch of the course you're about to cover, but that doesn't mean you 'believe' you can do it.
Having the 'glow' requires constant maintenance. For me, maintaining it comes from reminding myself of the countless tough runs I've endured over the years...in heat, in rain, in snow, in sickness, in health, etc. I also point to the numerous races in which I've posted personal bests or simply weathered all the peaks and valleys that came up during the course of the race.
I don't think anyone can ever truly be 'the master', but if you can manage to find the glow most of the time, you're certainly 'masterful'. So, I keep running because I seek the glow.