Tagged: run happy

The Essential Run

I run for many different reasons. Some days I run to solve problems, to think things through. Other times it’s to burn off steam after a particularly long or frustrating day. I run to escape, for privacy. I run off excess energy. I run so I can eat more ice cream or have another beer. I run because I have a little extra time. (Ok, yes, it is more likely I forgot to do something. I’ll remember it in a few miles. It’ll be too late. May as well finish the run.)

Each run is shaped by its motive. It feels different, I perceive the world differently, the intensity of my effort varies. I’ll run further for beer, run faster if I’m angry, longer if I need to think. If I’m lucky, every now and then, the run becomes something else. It becomes that essential run that is more than any other reason why I run.

The Essential Run is a mythical creature. It is a run I cannot simply choose to go on. It cannot be conjured or forced. It starts as some other kind of run, born out of necessity or will. After a mile or two, without warning, it emerges. I find myself in what I can only call a meditative state. Thoughts gently come, light as leaves. They settle, barely touching the surface of my consciousness. As ripples on a pond, they well up, ebb and fade. Nothing, big or small, requires my attention. All things are equal. All is nothing. A body moves across the earth effortlessly, it is not mine. I am not compelling it. I am not a passenger, merely a passing thought. I am a breath, that is all.

I close my eyes and I am the cosmos, expanding with the beating of my heart.

I open my eyes and I am home, a sweaty man… oh, right, I forgot to do the laundry.


When I started this blog, the title intentionally began with an ellipsis.  I meant for it to be a Zen thing: life, and all that other stuff …and running. Running for the love of running. By the time I started writing my first blog post, it was too late. You can’t have “…and running” when running is everything. I was stuck. What could I write about? And when did I have time to write, anyway?

I had to run.

My weekly mileage log had become an obsession. I had to hit certain numbers, everything else was secondary. The obligatory number? Of course it just kept getting bigger with each passing week. The necessary time investment for running was gradually increasing but there was no real return on the investment. I’d be in great shape at half those miles. I knew this. I knew it was getting out of hand. I told my girlfriend I was going to cut back. (Probably on my way out the door for a run…)

March 5, I was getting a bit of cabin fever and something felt off with my right foot. I blamed the treadmill and ventured outside. Halfway into my run, I lost stability on a patch of uneven ice and something gave in my foot. I grunted, “Oh, that wasn’t good…” I finished the run in pain.

It was all down hill from there. I took a few days off, but only a few. I was a runner, so I had to be able to run. I hopped on the treadmill to test things out. My right foot was not improved. Halfway into a bad movie, my left foot started to hurt. I kept on running, right into a compensation injury. A few days later, I made things worse by forcing another test run. At this point, I couldn’t tell you which foot hurt more. (I learned the term compensation injury from Kyle. I turned down his offer to coach me because I wasn’t trying to win any races. I know, reading this, he’s thinking I should have hired him to hold me back. Yup. Rookie mistake.)

I do not claim to be a wise man but I do learn eventually. Yes, by this time in the story, I’d figured it out–I need to rest, for real. Perhaps ironically, at the peak of my mileage chasing, I hit the lowest mileage month since I started running again.

While I was anxious about my mileage, there was an immediately obvious silver lining: I had so much more free time. I was able to do more around the house. I put a lot of miles on my bikes. I GOT ENGAGED! I moped around, whined and learned some important lessons about motivations, priorities and… possibly hypocrisy. I very, very cautiously tried and aborted a couple of test runs. At some point, I became aware that my prior anxiety about missing runs was a bit silly. While I missed running, I hadn’t completely lost my mind without my fix. I was still in good shape, not suddenly fat. Nobody had pulled me aside and accused me of not being a runner.

Like before, I wasn’t going to win any races. Unlike before, I’d come to peace with myself as a non-running runner.

April 13, I was ready to run. I felt it deep down. Not a nagging to update mileage log, but a stirring hunger. My body was telling me “we’re good.”. I was excited to go, but anxious about how it might turn out (those last test runs were bad). Besides, I had a lot to do after work. I considered I might not be able to find the time and I was okay with that. That revelation was a victory in and of itself, but that’s not where this story ends. I did find time. I found it right where it was supposed to be, after everything else was done. It wasn’t going to be a long run, because there wasn’t a lot of time left but I’ve recently come to understand that’s okay, too.

I stepped out onto the pavement, tentatively at first half expecting another abort… but my feet were eager to find the road, again and again. I relaxed, my mind cleared and surrendered as my body took over. I ascended, moving through the world unaided by machine, uninhibited by walls. I felt the spring in my sinews as I took flight between steps. My senses were alight: the world a tapestry of movement and color, a chorus of leaves, birds, voices, cars filled my ears as the wind caressed my face. I was talking to deer, laughing out loud like a child at play, chasing rabbits, waving at cars. For the first time in what felt like forever, I was running pain free. I was flying. I had no idea how fast and only the vaguest idea how far. My only measure was the experience, and it was divine.

As the sun disappeared and the run came to an end, this narrative started to take shape. This much needed rest forced me to reset and reconnect with myself and the world around me. I think this is where the story I wanted to tell really begins. It’s about living well… and running.