My dad has always been a runner, and this is something I have always known, as far back as my memory stretches. In a sense, it was built into the routine of shared family life, woven through sunny Saturday afternoons and frost-tipped mornings that lingered in the wake of a snowfall. He would always tell me (and tells me still) that a real runner can run in all weathers. The specific circumstances were usually irrelevant: my dad is a runner, and so he ran.
I myself was not a runner, not really, until this past summer (shortly before I began this series about running). Yet the impact of my father’s running on my childhood was not restricted to the domain of running itself. It had broader implications; it stretched beyond its literal significance, unveiling truths about strength, perseverance and character. There is a steadiness involved in such dedication that sees the runner leave the house in good days and bad, setting off down the street alone, without celebration, without the mere goal of external achievement. For my dad, running has never been about checking off boxes but about living more fully, connecting on a deeper level with the self.
I have said it before and will likely say it again, but I believe strongly that all humans are creative beings. This is not to say that all humans exercise their creativity or even recognize their creativity, but that the capacity to create is embedded inside each human self, not only a select few. It also goes without saying that such creativity, even if accessed according to its potential, would be lived out and expressed in a different way in every person, since no two people ever leave the same imprint on our earth.
What does all this have to do with running? In my opinion, the act of running is inextricably linked with the creative urge, the desire to create that dwells within the human soul. It may seem as though the two are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The former (the act of running) concerns the body: that is, the physical aspects of a person. The latter (creativity) instead revolves around the mind and the soul: the mental or spiritual domain. However, I think we enormously limit ourselves if we compel these different realms of self to abide in isolation. The diverse pieces of personhood (mind, body and spirit) were not intended to be self-contained, separated from one another in neat, compartmentalized boxes. Rather, they are blended and intertwined in surprising and unexplained ways, and only when they are permitted to fulfill their natural unity can the person truly experience a fullness of self. Thus, the way I see it, the physicality of running can lead very easily into the creative sphere.
The runner and the body. In a certain sense, the two are one and the same: the runner has a body; he could also be described as being a body. The act of running and the body of the runner are inextricably linked. To explore this relationship would undoubtedly be a large task, one I could only hope to partially open within the confines of a blog post. That is why I want to discuss not the body as it is during the act of running but rather, the effects of running on the body and how these effects (or the anticipation of them) can spread their influence to the mind as well.
I don’t think anyone would deny that running is good for the body, though you could deny that it is many other things: namely, enjoyable or worthy of effort and time. I suppose I should also add a condition to the opening statement of this paragraph: running might be more destructive than good for the body that is already plagued with injury. But I see this as the exception rather than the rule. In its ideal and intended form, running brings much ‘good’ to the body. It increases fitness and health, reducing risk of illness through cardiovascular exercise. It also helps to trim and tone the runner’s physique. This last point is the one I want to flesh out a little (if I can be excused for my use of the pun).
The title of this post may lead the reader to believe it is about running in the absence of onlookers; that is, the freedom to run without being watched. Such freedom is certainly not insignificant, though I think we more often have need of liberation from internal rather than external judgements. However, I was actually referring to a different kind of watch, and it is this watch (the one to do with time) I want to discuss today.
I love wearing a watch. I don’t remember when I got my first watch or when it became a regular staple of my wardrobe, but it’s rare for me to leave my house without it. Why do I wear a watch? It’s hard to avoid a simple answer: I like knowing what time it is. The ability to carry time with you gives off some illusion of control, not the illusion of controlling time but of being able to measure time and control one’s schedule in accordance with it.
Previously I talked about how, for me, running is a very solitary experience. A lot of good can come from this solitude, from the opportunity to let ourselves be, removed from the regular pressures and distractions of other voices. It is a time in which we can be alone with ourselves, within ourselves, and so turn to this inner life, the inner self, and explore its depth and beauty.
And yet, for the most part, when we run we are not alone. There are exceptions to this- perhaps if you are running on a completely secluded and deserted path, or if you happen to have a treadmill in your house and lock the door (I don’t personally like treadmills, but that is a different story for a different time). However, I don’t think there has been a single occasion in the last couple months when I have gone running and not encountered another person. By this, I don’t mean I’ve run into someone that I know (I have only met a familiar face, in the midst of all my sweaty, heavily panting glory, a small handful of times). Rather, I run past people- strangers– sharing the same path as me. Sometimes I also run on the sidewalk alongside the road and in such cases, cars (presumably filled with people: perhaps strange, perhaps familiar) pass me by.
When we think about running, the thought of the finish line is not far behind. This is because the runner often runs as training, in order to prepare for a race. And in such a race, the route is not self-determined, not set to every runner’s individual preference. Rather, there is a specified starting point and finishing line. And to finish the race, you must cross said line; thus you are running towards a particular destination. This notion of running to meet a specific goal has the potential for utilitarian implications, but that is the subject for a future post. What I’m interested in discussing today is how this idea of the finish line can translate to individual running, to a running that is not goal-oriented.
I have only participated in a couple of races over the course of my life, and none of them recent. There are some things that linger in my mind from these occasions: the mounting tension and excitement before the starting horn, the spirit of camaraderie and the cheering supporters. I have been one of these cheering supporters far more frequently than I have been a runner receiving this support. As a spectator at races in which my father and brother were running, I felt some of the same feelings (though with none of the discomfort or energy expenditure involved in actual running). There were nerves as I waited for a familiar face to appear around the last bend, there was a surge of pride as I watched them cross the finish line. But as I run on my own, often without a watch and not training for anything in particular, is the idea of the race in any way applicable?
This is the first post in a series entitled “The Runner.” I will be releasing a new post in the series each week, reflecting on a different aspect of running or reflection to which running can lead us.
Why running? A couple months ago, I began running. Although I had run before, of course, I had never done so regularly. As the act of running grew to become part of my routine, despite inevitable ebb and flow, I was surprised and moved by all that this seemingly simple pursuit can do, not just for the body but for the mind and soul too. This series is written not only for people who run. It is not even only for people who exercise. It is just for people. Running reveals deep truths about the human person, truths that can be shared and experienced by runners and non-runners alike.