No pretty pictures today, just a short essay. Some thoughts on running “in pursuit of” and the elusive nature of quality time. Ahhh… quality time; maybe a day at the beach with my family just going with the flow, an afternoon spent swinging in a hammock while sufficiently intoxicated, or just going out for a run. The more I run, the more I fixate on the dichotomy of this simplest of activities. Running can be a meditative experience, a way to busy ourselves while at the same time letting go of all the busy thoughts. It seems to be something that, as a running culture, is rarely appreciated though. Are we losing sight of the trail while trying to win the race?
I run because I want to. I run because my ego wants me to. There is some truth in both of those statements. I’m not really what you’d call a spiritual guy but I accept that the ego is a real thing. Sometimes it hides, sometimes it shows itself. Some people keep theirs’ in check, others wear it like a badge. When you start wondering “what is the ego” it’s inevitable you wander into the realm of spiritualism. To that end, let me quote Ram Dass…
One of the ego’s favorite paths of resistance is to fill you with doubt.
That’s probably the opposite of how most of us Westerners normally think of ego, but check it out – how many people do you know who are not really happy, who would make some major change in their life “if only” they could, who fear doing what would make them happy – or at least taking a shot at it? Most of us if we’re honest. The other side of the ego is just as powerful an influencer… this intangible thing that exists as the manifestation of our desires. When we have a strong desire to challenge ourselves, eventually we’ll find our self toeing a starting line somewhere. The Ego: “Oh, so you think you can run 50 miles through the mountains? Prove it!”. Is this all bad? Nah. All things in moderation, and what not.
Being More, and More…
As a firm believe in living a balanced lifestyle, I can’t say that I see all desire as a bad thing. Too much desire, for anything, has got to be seen/realized as being unhealthy though. “I need a flatscreen TV in every room of my house.” || “I need to be running a race every weekend.” Not much difference.
I put endurance challenges in front of myself because they give me an outlet to experience some amazing places; they give me a sense of accomplishment, a deeper understanding of my limits, and because I want to be that fit guy, the one who can do it, the one who can overcome whatever obstacles are in front of me. To put it in a spiritual context, I do these things because it makes me feel like a badass. We are the physical manifestation of our ego, or at least that’s what the ego wants.
It’s not a huge leap to conclude this behavior can be addictive.
Looking at the climate of endurance activities – the people who partake, the spaces and agencies involved, there is this ever growing disconnect, spreading like The Nothing through Fantasia, in what could and should be a balanced ecosystem. Endurance running popularity is skyrocketing across the boards – people running marathons, trail marathons, ultra distance, fastest known time attempts, obstacle races – and forget about the competitive level, this is just the mid-pack crowd who aren’t even thinking about podiums! Let’s be real about it, that first event is just a taste of the heroin.
All of this ego stoking gets to be a bit much, a downward spiral even. It’s sad when friends can’t get together for a run because someone is constantly training for the next race, or tapering, or racing, and every weekend is booked with events before the year even begins. The running experience is replaced by an exercise in ticking off check boxes. Conversations degrade to comparing checklists, times, weekly mileages. Living an active lifestyle has never looked so unhealthy.
When we strip down the the races, strip away the early morning commotion at bib pickup, the free tech tees, cheap finisher medals, corporate branding, bullhorns, and elbow to elbow runners at tables buried under piles of goo packets, pretzels, and orange wedges… what are we left with? Hopefully something more than an empty feeling between now and whatever’s next.
How about the cold morning air, dew on knee-high grasses waiting to catch a ride, deer, coyotes, turkeys scrambling off the trails, those first rays of sunlight, fingers of mist retreating up creek beds, footsteps thumping along forest trails, footsteps crunching down rocky fire roads, solitude – or the company of a friend, a pair of running shoes, some water, a destination. We didn’t forget about those did we? There’s so much to appreciate that goes by the wayside when we just let it.
It’s all about getting to the root. Soul Running. Being present in the experience, not the event. It isn’t done “because”… it’s just done. Forget the races, forget the training, split times, tempo paces, let all that bullshit go. There’s so much more than getting to the next race or getting to the next aid station. Think PR’ing a course is hard? Try turning off your running apps – that’s hard.
Run something self supported – better yet, do it solo. Pick a route, do something long – longer than you ever have on your own, give yourself some time. There’s something humbling about completing a long selfie, with nobody there to commiserate with on the hard climbs or when you’re out of energy. No cheering crowd waiting at the finish, maybe not even a single person to greet you when you finally arrive at some quiet trailhead. There’s nothing but love out there, running for no other reason than wanting to.
Reconnecting to what’s lost in pursuit of the challenge is key to finding what it is we’re really looking for, and it’s not something we can get from feeding the ego. Sure there are races to be run, goals to be reached, and peaks to be bagged. There’s plenty of time though, and so much to see along the way. Hike It. Like It.