I had this post all drafted in my head about two weeks ago and a combination (in equal measure) of laziness/business/pensiveness caused me to postpone the post.
the first part of the Why Run? question was answered a few weeks ago in terms of it being something humans are good at (from an evolutionary point of view) and so it seems a waste to use my ass for creating an impression on a sofa when its main purpose is for making me move a bit quicker than walking.
The second reason I run (the part 2) is a bit more abstract.
I am slow to fully explain this reason because if I launch into it with too much gusto you’re likely to get the look across your face that comes when you meet a hedonistic teenage/college buddy who, after 20 years and now in his middle years has found his soul and is now a God botherer or worse still, “into spirituality“.
That is too easy a dismissal and too easy a reason to give as to why I run but I’ll ty and explain it in a few simple paragraphs that can all be put in a box called perspective.
Most of us struggle along, doing our best with the normal routines of life and operate in a space where our natural condition is now to be mildly anxious about some abstract fear that we can’t quite put our finger on. This is the late 20th Century human condition.
For some of us the pervasive white noise of anxiety is to do with failing to achieve goals we set ourselves or society sets for us (think of the working mother who always feels that the normal day should have at least 28 hours in it) or the creeping anxiety we feel about climate change or litter in our seas or death or the recession or internet bullying or the war in Syria or whatever you’re having yourself. We’re never quite happy. Always searching.
In days of yore these anxieties were dealt with through religious devotion and participation in organised religion. At least God would ride shotgun for us.
If you’ve ever sat in a church and thought to yourself – there is no connection here for me then you start to realise that the growth in individuality that the western world promotes (I can do whatever I want) has unintended consequences – not least of which is the feeling that organised religion is not working for us.
On top of all of this I have a brain that generates tangential trains of thought like a Catherine wheel spinning out of control. I need some way of marshalling these thoughts so I can put them back in their place.
Despite what people I meet down the pub would tell you, I’m not given to sharing my thoughts with random strangers over a pint so the pub, as an outlet for my thoughts, is not on.
I can’t do a full brain dump on my nearest and dearest as I want to keep them that way (near and dear).
So, what comes over the hill to my rescue?
Just a short note: When I took up running it was for all the obvious reasons to do with fitness and weight and speed. The food for my soul bit only came much much later (years later). I say this because if you’re out there trying to do a couch to 5k plan at the moment and can’t find what I’m describing that’s because you’re completely normal.
Running, and in particular running for a long time, does two things to me.
It slows down the flow of oxygen to my brain allowing me to strip away a lot of the superfluous noise that normally flows through my head. I would hypothesise that this is why exercise is good for hyperactive kids. This brings me a sense of perspective and calm. This removes the modern life anxiety thing I mentioned earlier. I guess that this is what deep prayer or meditation does for you as well.
The second thing that happens is that long distance running changes my perspective on my existence (sounds very deep, doesn’t it?) in that I am able to experience life on a completely different plane – almost as a third person – out-of-body. I guess anything that moves you from your comfort zone would do this to you – mountain climbing, sailing, diving.
The combination of these two things and the exhaustion they bring about, sometimes for hours, sometimes for weeks is very addictive.
It feels good. It makes me happy.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I run.
I should probably just buy rosary beads.
I should add that I am constantly injured and know that I will eventually end up as a slightly overweight hill walker with bad taste in anoraks and a flask of tea but it’s worth having something to look at as your life flashes before your eyes.