meditations: why do we run?

When you’re a runner, people always ask why.

It’s a question posed by people who don’t run, obviously. No offense to you. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

A lot of people assume we run to get away from something. To punish ourselves, perhaps. Why else would you spend hours panting as you propel yourself forward, a study in controlled repetition, over the same streets and sidewalks? Just for fun?

I used to laugh at this idea of “running away from it all” until I started reading more books by famous men who run insane distances. There’s Scott Jurek, whose mother had MS; Dean Karnazes, whose sister died young; Marshall Ulrich, who discussed his relationships with his children after the death of his first wife in his book “Running On Empty”.

These are people who went through life experiences that made them tougher. Does this explain their capabilities in endurance sport? Not necessarily. But how much of a part does it play?

If fast ultrarunners, arguably among the toughest characters in this sport, seem to share pasts that are troubled on some level…. does that mean it gives you an advantage, in running, to have overcome hard things like that? Do we run, on some level, to quite literally avoid pain? To run out of the mess of our lives, our minds, the stressors placed upon us on a daily basis?

Maybe we run to find time for ourselves amidst the chaos. 

Perhaps.

I mean, I’m sure there’s an advantage to overcoming life’s hardships in the same way that training for and running distance races can improve your ability to get through other hardships in life. I guess this situation would just be the other way around. Successfully overcoming challenges of any kind makes you more adept at navigating through them in other circumstances- perhaps these men just happen to have chosen running as their challenge.

I suppose it’s like saying you can only be a writer if you’ve gone through hard times. Is it true? In Danielle LaPorte’s book, ‘The Desire Map,’ she talks about the necessity of experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion in order to really live. You can reach for your dreams, aim to experience the highs and go after your heart’s desires, but ultimately you’ve got to embrace the lows as well. You don’t have to seek them out, but… aren’t the strongest people you know usually the ones who’ve struggled a bit and made it through?

When I run because I’m in pain, though- emotional, too deep in my head, or going through tough times- it usually doesn’t end well. I overdo it. Run too hard, too fast, too many miles. I get injured. So there is something to be said for running away from your problems, in a way, but without limits you can run yourself into the ground. Getting sidelined because of an injury you earned in such a way begets a vicious cycle, leaving you without that outlet and dropping you right back into whatever space in your head you were running from anyway.

Perhaps it’s not the smartest idea, to run from our pain. Perhaps, if we depend on running too much, too often, so much that we forget that we still need to spend time actually working through whatever is going on… that’s when the problems arise. The lesson may be in utilizing the strength we gain from overcoming obstacles to make it through the next challenge a little more easily.

But at the same time…

What can you do when you run with positivity?

Is it healthier to run because you love it and you’re free? Can you choose (of course you can- you can always choose) to find in running a sense of peace while you face whatever challenges you’re going through?

It’s a different kind of hurt when you’re challenging yourself versus punishing yourself. We should learn to recognize it.

Perhaps we should run because we love the feel of it. Because we love to push ourselves- not to distract ourselves, not to punish ourselves, but because we want to see how far we can test and expand our limits. And when running becomes a challenge (because that’s a part of the sport, and it will), maybe that’s the time to pull out that emotional turmoil, to let it take over and propel you forward.

But this seems like striving, still, literally running away.

Maybe running towards is a more promising option.

If we choose to focus on positivity… on seeking that high, that satisfaction, those goals… we may hit the same paces either way. We might grow faster and avoid injury. It might not feel as hard any more, because we will no longer be focused on the effort but the joy.

We might just enjoy our lives a little more, and learn to let the rest go. A lesson in relinquishing our hurt instead of clinging to it. We’ll learn to work through our challenges on the way, but we won’t let them overtake us.

Maybe we run when we’re hurting to feel strong again. When life has beaten us down, when we are broken and terrified and we need a reminder that we can get through this thing, this whatever that is happening in our lives.

Maybe sometimes we run hard and fast to prove to ourselves that there is strength yet left inside of us.

Maybe we run to remind us of our power.

We run for a million reasons, good and bad. But ultimately, at the end of the day, we are running for ourselves. We all have our “why”.

So. Why do you run?

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