The three-act structure is a model used in writing which divides a fictional narrative into three parts (or acts) often called the “setup”, the “complication”, and the “resolution”. The first act establishes the main characters, their relationships, and the world in which they live. Later in the first act an incident occurs that confronts the main character. And his attempts to deal with this incident lead to a second, and more dramatic, situation.
The second act typically depicts the main character’s attempt to resolve the problem only
to find himself in ever worsening situations. The reason he seems unable to fix
his problems is because he does not yet have the skills to deal with the forces
that confront him. The end of act two is generally the main character’s lowest
point in the story both physically and emotionally.
In the third act, the
main character must not only learn new skills
but arrive at a higher sense of awareness of who he is and what he is capable
of. This cannot be achieved alone and the main character is usually aided by others. The end of the act three, and ultimately the story, results in a climactic sequence in which the main tensions are
brought to their most intense point and the dramatic questions are answered.
Now, as I enter my third decade of running, this idea
of a three act play really struck a chord with me...
I started running in 1997 as an over-weight,
out-of-shape, 29-year old. During the decade that followed I met a lot of awesome
runner friends, figured some things out, ran a bunch of road marathons and achieved
most of my running PR’s. But came up short in accomplishing what I believed to
be my ultimate goal – finally running a sub-3 hour marathon. This was my
In my second act, I discovered the joys of trail and
mountain running. And, over the next ten years, slowly transitioned out of road
running completely and into trail (and ultimately ultra) running full time. The
culmination of act two saw me run my first 100 mile race and then suffer the consequences
- injury, low energy, and lack of motivation. Leaving me at the lowest point in
my running story, thus far. A most definite complication.
Which brings us to act three…
At 29 years I started my running career. At 39 years
I reached my highest point before shifting gears. Now, as I approach 49 (and
beyond) years, I’m faced with a rather daunting question: What Next?
Will I chuck trail running completely and go after
that ever-elusive sub-3 road marathon again? Will I attempt another 100 miler? Will
I learn the skills required to finally slay my demons? Will I arrive at a
higher sense of awareness of who I am and what I’m capable of? And, will my 50’s
help me arrive at some sort of running resolution? Who knows?
Hopefully you'll stay tuned. And we can both find out together.