Those who know me know how important running has been in my life.
I first began to run on the track team of Miller Junior High School in Marshalltown, Iowa. Our 440 relay team broke the school record and that stood for years. I got the nickname “rabbit”.
I began long distance running at Scattergood Friends School. During our daily recreation time the boys played soccer and the girls played field hockey. During my Junior year there I developed significant back problems when my skeletal system grew faster than muscle development. My roommates had to tie my shoes because I couldn’t bend that far. I can still remember that pain. Playing soccer aggravated that. But for some reason running did not.
So three of us began to run cross country instead of play soccer–Stephen Evans, Kale Williams and I. We’d usually run the sides of a square, one mile each side, which came to close to five miles a day. I fell in love with running then.
I was going to say something about “runner’s high” and endorphins but it seems other chemicals are responsible. For whatever chemical or non-chemical reasons, long distance runners feel really good at some point during and after a “good” run. Yes, there are also “bad” runs.
I’ve often written about my decision to live without a car that I made about forty years ago, and the unexpected benefits of that lifestyle. One of the best was how I ran home from work every day. (I got to work riding the city bus). When I began doing that I lived seven miles from Riley Hospital for Children.
About two years ago I suddenly found I could no longer run, no matter how hard I tried. Neither pulmonary function nor cardiac stress tests found any reason why. That was one of the most traumatic events in my life. I truly mourned this loss.
When the weather became nice this spring, I was going to get out my bicycle, the exercise I had been using as an alternative. But first I thought I would try yet again to see if I could run. The miracle I was referring to in the title is that for some reason I am now able to run again! I have been thanking God almost continuously since. When I told my sister Lisa how much I was running, she gently said it is recommended that you don’t run every day, which is what I was doing. I was enjoying my newfound freedom to run so much I did it every day. I know that is a recommendation, but all my adult life I had been running six or seven days a week. When I was keeping a running log I found I was running about 1,100 miles a year.
This dependence on running probably seems extreme if you aren’t a runner. But running is about far more than exercise. Being able to run again makes me aware, again, of those reasons.
One is the healthy feeling you are aware of as all systems work together, and at nearly peak capacities–heart, lungs, circulation, brain and metabolic system. Having a medical background helps visualize all these parts of yourself working like a well-oiled machine. I really have it bad, don’t I?
I realized how much I missed being in nature. The natural beauty of the land, flowers, trees, birds, squirrels, rabbits, even insects. The solar power of the sun landing on your skin. The smells of the earth and flowers. The sound of the wind through the trees, or that generated by you as you flow through the air. As I’ve been learning much more about Indigenous people and their connections to Mother Earth, I am more aware of that now as I run again. It also makes me think one of my ancestors was a running warrior, helping push me forward.
Another part is how you mentally reach a zone that I find similar to that state I often get to in Quaker meeting for worship. All the noise fades away and you become acutely aware of a spiritual presence.
One of my favorite authors, George Sheehan, expresses these things better than I can:
“What running does is allow it to happen. Creativity must be spontaneous. It cannot be forced. Cannot be produced on demand. Running frees me from that urgency, that ambition, those goals. There I can escape from time and passively await the revelation of the way things are.
There, in a lightning flash, I can see truth apprehended whole without thought or reason. There I experience the sudden understanding that comes unmasked, unbidden. I simply rest, rest within myself, rest within the pure rhythm of my running, rest like a hunter in a blind. And wait.
Sometimes it is all fruitless. I lack the patience, the submission, the letting go. There are, after all, things to be done. People waiting. Projects uncompleted. Letters to be answered. Paperwork to do. Planes to be caught. A man can waste just so much time and no more waiting for inspiration.
But I must wait. Wait and listen. That inner stillness is the only way to reach these inner marvels, these inner miracles all of us possess. And when truth strikes, that brief, blinding illumination tells me what every writer comes to know. If you would write the truth, you must first become the truth.
The mystery of all this is that I must let it come to me. If I seek it, it will not be found. If I grasp it, it will escape. Only in not caring and in complete nonattachment, only by existing purely in the present will I find truth. And where truth is will also be the sublime and the beautiful, laughter and tears, joy and happiness. All there waiting also.”
“Running & Being: The Total Experience” by George Sheehan, Kenny Moore