Of course there are the benefits to your physical health. There are the practical benefits of increasing your body’s capacity for activity. There’s the social side, the fun of the events. There’s the adventure and the chance for some time out from the stresses of work and family life. There’s the ‘runners’ high’. The lasting feelings of psychological well-being and balance.
But there’s also something beyond that, and It might be what we are all reaching for. Sports like surfing and climbing have embraced it. Running has it too.
“I fell on my back on the trail and I was done. I lay there looking up at the leaves on the trees. And for a while that is all there was. The leaves. The wind. It was a very special moment. I couldn’t believe I had to go so far to experience it.”
Then there's the 'Marathon Monks' of The Tendai School of Buddhism in Japan. They complete 1,000 days of long distance trail running. They are in search of something similar.
And what about the famed Divine Madness spiritual running group in the US? They field successful ultra-runners in top races. As far as any outsider can tell, they do it as a quest to reach this kind of running nirvana.
You don’t have to go that far or live a strange life to experience it. It can come as the moment in a trail run when all the pain and effort suddenly disappears. You glide effortlessly through nature almost unaware of yourself. It is a oneness, a wholeness of being. The body is in flow, the mind is still and silent.
But there's a funny thing. This is really what most people are after. But pursuing it barely features in most training programmes or running guides. Perhaps it is seen as too personal, or some kind of weird metaphysical accident.
But it can be actively cultivated. There are times when it’s good to go running with friends, chatting as you go. There are times when you will be watching the clock, fulfilling a key element of your training or pushing for a personal best. But spare some sessions too for running as meditation.
Leave all your gadgets behind - no watch, no phone.
Run somewhere safe, beautiful and quiet.
Don’t run a set distance or for a set time.
Run lightly, without a bag.
Relax your focus onto your breathing or your footfalls.
Keep good form, don’t worry about pace.
Let thoughts come and go, but don’t pursue them or judge them.
You will probably find this improves your life, and your running. You will want to incorporate it into both.
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