Download: Sea Wolf - "Middle Distance Runner"
Since I've started running, songs with running motifs have appealed to me, so it's no surprise that Sea Wolf's "Middle Distance Runner" finds itself on my playlist often. But to say that I like it simply because it refers to running would minimize how effective and affecting it is as a lament.
What I admire most about the song is how it uses the metaphor of the middle distance runner. When the narrator confesses, "I will only ever be a middle distance runner," he is admitting an inability to commit, to be in it for the long run. While he's not a sprinter who is merely good for a short burst--a fling, he is also not a long distance runner that can slog through it all.
With the song's steady, unceasing beat driving things, the song becomes a lament for love/relationships that ultimately go nowhere. The beat, constant and unchanging, suggests firmness but it also hints at inflexibility, the willingness to adapt to situations and circumstances. The song works as a character study of a particular kind of individual who perpetually finds himself unable to make things last. "It's stamina that I lack," he says, but it may also have something to do with never taking an extra step and making things work. Rather than meet his lover halfway, he tells her, "You'll have to run to me tonight." He's also the kind of person who, rather than confront, succumbs to a situation. He refuses to talk about the future and avoids arguments, using the excuse of being too tired to fight. By simply admitting that he will only ever be a middle distance runner, he is turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's not so much that he is a middle distance runner, it is that he only wants to be a middle distance runner.
Such is the loneliness of the middle distance runner.