No pretty pictures today, just a short essay. Some thoughts on running “in pursuit of” and the elusive nature of quality time – which comes in so many ways. Maybe a day at the beach with the family just going with the flow, an afternoon spent swinging in a hammock while sufficiently intoxicated, or just going out for a short run. I can’t help but 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-thought. It seems to be something that, as a running culture, is appreciated less and less though. So, what’s going on? Are we losing sight of the path while trying to win the race? That would be such a shame…
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. When we start asking “what is the ego” it’s inevitable that we 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 how many people do you know who aren’t really content and who would make some major change in their life “if only” they could, who fear doing what would make them truly happy (chasing their dreams) – or at least taking a shot at it? Most of us if we’re honest. Sometimes where we first find resistance, we later find an inability to relent. There’s a reason after all why the hundred mile run is now considered the “marathon”. The other side of the ego is a powerful 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!”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s a factor of our progression; all things in moderation, but what often begins as a sense of awe (wow, I really can run a marathon!), usually leads to excitement (further runs/races and personal progression), and eventually a feeling of being invincible with a strange urge to prove otherwise.
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. To quote another spiritual thinker, Sakyong Mipham (The Running Mind)…
Of course, we all go through our own experiences. If we do not push ourselves enough, we do not grow, but if we push ourselves too much, we regress. What is enough will change, depending on where we are and what we are doing. In that sense, the present moment is always some kind of beginning.
So yeah, desire to push and grow is probably a healthy and positive 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. We see this manifest in running in the form of burnout and “over training syndrome”; a threat always lurking just around the corner. Runners come and go too often in this sport.
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 a tough act to balance – and it’s not a huge leap to conclude this behavior can become 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, going for fastest known time attempts, and 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, for some of us that first event is a taste of the heroin.
All of this ego stoking seems to escalate into a downward spiral. It’s no longer enough to just enjoy going for a run; solace is found only after completing the registration form for the next run. Then the next, and some more after that. It’s sad when friends can’t get together for a run because someone is constantly training for the next race, or recovering, tapering, or racing, and every weekend is booked with events before the year even begins. The running experience is replaced by with the “collect them all mentality” and ticking check boxes off. Conversations degrade to comparing profiles on UltraSignup, weekly stats, and V02 max bragging rights, who has the latest watch and monitors, etc..
Lately some runners, especially ultrarunners, have been getting unwarranted (mostly) negative press. It doesn’t make sense. Generally people on trails (including runners) have a positive relationship with the outdoors. They understand trail etiquette, they practice Leave No Trace, and tend to have a friendly and good-natured attitude. Unfortunately, there also are those who don’t – and it could be a growing segment. It’s tempting to say that this segment consists of people who are transitioning from sport background to trail running. Although there is a competitive element in trail running, it’s a very different culture from competitive sports. However, regardless of background, once you’ve degraded into a checkbox-checking-off drone, you’ve probably taken a step toward becoming an asshole, and nobody likes sharing trails with assholes. Even more so when you bring your drone-mentality out to non-event runs so you can bag another one for your trophy case. A true appreciation for the trails and the experience is sadly something that seems as if it’s being replaced by the desire to be some sort of conqueror of the trails. This kind of attitude and behavior reflects badly on all of us.
Bleh. 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. 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, completely spent and yearning for some validation. There’s nothing but love out there, running for no other reason than wanting to, and there you find the payoff in those quiet hours. Put the soul back into running, at least once in a while.
At the end of the day, nobody remembers the runners who didn’t make the podium, if they bothered to notice them to begin with. So what’s all the hurry for? Sure there are races to be run, goals to be realized, and peaks to be bagged. There’s plenty of time though, and so much to see along the way; let’s not miss out on the gifts that the trails have to give. Hike It. Like It.