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Running is Life

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Running is Life

I run for enlightenment. I run for competition. I run for entertainment. I run for solace. I run for energy. I run for organization of thought. I run to live. I live to run.

I converse with the roads I run on; not out loud, nor in sentence form, but in my head. I communicate with the road telepathically, in whole ideas and concepts, and it communicates back in the same manner. Whenever I find a good road, I’ll start to become familiar with the stories and history that happen on it. I take note of landmarks near specific distances. I memorize the landscape and wind patterns. I become aware of patterns in vegetation and wildlife along the route. Soon, after a few hard runs on a particular road, I start to develop an affinity with it–a connection. I visit it every day, learning and growing from its constancy. If I ever miss a day or two, and then return for a much-needed run, I feel like the road has much to tell me, like an old friend.

During high school I found an old dirt road outside the city limits of Bend, Oregon, my hometown, and it spoke to me in beautiful poetry. Rows of giant oak trees lined the hard packed path on both sides for exactly six miles. Each tree was separated by 100 meters of tall, waist high grass, the occasional pussy-willow plant and various wild-flowers. The distances between the trees were not coincidental to me; I had concluded that a brilliant runner had surely planted them long ago. I would clock my time between each of the trees, and after four trees, I knew I had covered one-quarter mile. I recognized the distinctive details of every mile-marking tree. I could see it approaching by the way its branches bent differently than the others. The gnarled bark around its trunk, eye level to me as I ran by, almost seemed to spell out messages in the shape of letters and words. Sometimes it would read “dig” or “go” if I were really concentrating on my actual running technique. I would always glance down at my wristwatch every mile, and mentally record my times. Sometimes I envisioned the trees as giant time clocks, like the ones at finish lines, displaying the elapsed time in minutes and seconds. At other times the bark would spell out words like “truth” and “light” or “do it”. I contemplated my beliefs, questioned doctrine, prioritized responsibilities, set goals and dreamed of the promise of success while running. On occasion the trees said nothing, and I would run faster to reach the next tree. I ran on that road almost every day, and always when training for cross-country and track. The road continued on, after the last tree, but with out them it seemed to lose its beauty and magic. This is where I would stop and turn around.

Running along this road, early in the morning, I could see into the future and past. Visions of triumph and failure, dreams crushed like fallen glass, and the sweat and tears of men struggling to survive and succeed. The time spent on this dirt path was like light shed on problems. I remember when having troubled times at home, I would go for a run on “my road” and feel peace, relief, and solace.

True runners never say they’re going running. They say they are going on a run; implying an experience or even a state of mind that they’re going to, instead of putting one foot in front of the other in a quick motion. I do not run to stay in shape; I stay in shape to run. There’s a point after a certain number of miles, around seven or eight, when you start to experience the road. Life becomes very clear. The mechanics of your stride and breathing patterns seem to become subconsciously controlled. The repetitious sounds heard often when running, like the rhythms of your breathing and footsteps on the pavement, all seem to fade out. While in this state of mind, meditation is present. Theology becomes the topic of thought, with debate opposing or supporting a particular theme being discoursed in detail. Visions of past and present play out. Fundamental epistles on theory, logic, and triumph result. This meditation brings a realization of the world around me. Meditation brings clarity. Meditation brings order. Meditation brings art. Meditation brings desire. Meditation brings identity with one’s self worth. Meditation brings identity to Self. One could say that a person runs, not to run, but to consider life.

Running long distances, more than ten miles, takes no more physical ability than it takes to run three miles. The road adopts runners when they reach the state of mind when running becomes subconscious. It directs them where to go, and when to turn left or right. A long distance race, like a full marathon, is quite a showcase of physical ability from a spectator’s point of view. Watching from the sidelines, one undoubtedly gasps with wonder and admiration as they see one finisher after another complete the tiresome task. Cheering at the top of their lungs, they encourage passers-by to ‘keep going’ and ‘finish strong’. Spectators become a vital part of the marathon ecosystem. Without a strong finish, a runner is doomed by self-doubt. By the time a runner has reached the last few miles, the once meditating subconscious slowly shifts back into consciousness due to the limitations of the human body. This awareness is rich with pain; every muscle feels heavy, flimsy, and exhausted. Focus now turns quickly to the mechanics of running: cooling off by dumping water over their heads, shaking both arms outwards and then down to loosen their quickly tightening neck and jaw. They search for the last mile marker. Desperately they look for the finish line. Thoughts of doubt now try to creep into their weakening frame. The only thing keeping the runner in the race is the will to finish what they started, which is quickly fading in importance with each painful step. Clapping, cheering, lights and music becomes their hope, familiar faces their saving grace. Dependent on them, the runner finishes the race.

Running brings out the best in people. The world would be a better place if there were more runners. The principles of running: desire, discipline, endurance, and faith can be applied to daily life. Application of these principles helps one achieve goals, overcome challenges, and finish the marathon of existence.

I wake up early. Looking at the alarm clock I see that there’s two minutes till it goes off. I turn it off early and I get dressed in my running attire. I tell myself, “Got to beat 32 minutes today, race pace.” I’m training for a 10K. I leave the comfort of my warm home and enter the world with a simple purpose; I’m going on a run.

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