Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

8.29.2013

Why I Run

I've cycled through phases as a runner throughout my life.  My dad was a distance coach, so I grew up running as a way of life and loved it.  In middle school and high school I pursued other sports and got away from it, but after graduating I started up again as a way to stay fit.  Soon I was practicing with my dad's top runners in the state and ended up walking on to my college cross country/track team.  I was never the best, but my teammates voted me co-captain my senior year.  Then competitive drive left me burned out, and I gradually lost the habit after college.  Later I rediscovered the fun of running with the trails at local parks and triathlon competitions.  Recently I've been less active.

I vividly remember the moment in college that I decided I didn't just want to run for fitness, I wanted be a runner.  We were at a college cross country meet watching a former star from our high school.  He and one other runner led the race.  As we cut across the turns of the course to see them again and again throughout the race, I became increasingly amazed at how long they could sustain such a fast pace.  It seemed they were flying through the course.  And even though part of me knew they were suffering from the effort, the runners I saw simply looked graceful and strong, joyful and peaceful.  I want to do that, I thought.  I will do that.

For the most part, I did.  I was never as fast as those particular runners, but I've experienced what I imagined them feeling many times.  There really is a runner's high, though it takes some fitness to achieve.  Aside from the endorphin high, though, there is a particular joy to running that is hard to explain.  I've tried to describe aspects of it before in some of my previous posts:

  • In Trail Running Is My Favorite Form of Meditation (linked within the post linked for context), I quoted a couple of long sections from Christopher McDougal's book Born to Run.  An excerpt:  . . . "When I'm out on a long run," she continued, "the only thing in life that matters is finishing the run. For once, my brain isn't going blehblehbleh all the time. Everything quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow. It's just me and the movement and the motion. That's what I love--just being a barbarian, running through the woods." . . .
  • I expanded on that thought with my own words in Do You Incubate Your Brain?, opening with, I'm always going on about how I do my best thinking while engaged in repetitive physical activities like hiking, swimming, biking, and running, then connecting it to the ideas in an article about daydreaming.
  • And The Calm After the Storm begins with, Most of my most tranquil moments in life have come during quiet reflection after long, hard exercise, and then I explain.
None of those capture the complete experience, though.  Recently, the writer of the webcomic The Oatmeal did a series about his experience as a runner.  It is brilliant.  It could be about me and says nearly everything I'd want to say, in a quick visual format.  It's done in 6 parts.  If you want the payoff, the answer to "Why I Run," you could read part 6 because that says it.  But the whole series is worth it if you want to fully understand.  There are excellent internal links at the site and I don't expect you to come back here to navigate through the parts, but I'll link them all with a quick bit from each as an introduction; and since I know most readers are impatient, I'll start with part 6 then take you back to the beginning for the full story.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances:

Part 6. The Void - I run very fast because I desperately want to stand very still.  I run to seek a void.  The world around me is so very, very loud.  It begs me to slow down, to sit down, to lie down.  And the buzzing roar of the world is nothing compared to the noise inside my head.  I'm an introspective person, and sometimes I think too much, about my job and about my life.  I feed an army of pointless, bantering demons.  But when I run, the world grows quiet.  Demons are forgotten, Krakens are slain, and Blerches are silenced.

Part 1. The Blerch - The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference that plague my life. . . . I run because it's the only way I know how to quiet the monster.  I run, because deep down, I am the Blerch.

Part 2. The Feeding - Running through forests and over mountains and under massive cityscapes makes me feel ALIVE.  Eating iceberg lettuce and counting calories makes me feel tired and robotic.  I run long distances for the worst possible reason: I run to eat.  I punish my body outdoors to atone for my atrocities indoors.

Part 3. Selfishness and Krakens - Running is a magical shortcut to that [euphoric sense of accomplishment].  It enables me to feel like my life is rocketing skyward, even if it's going straight to hell. . . . I run long distances because it makes me feel better.  I run because I want to slay the Kraken, I just don't want to actually lift the sword.

Part 4. Vanity - Running is not about building strength and wearing it like a fashion statement.  It's about finding strength and measuring yourself every single day.  I run long distances to feel good, not to look good.

Part 5. The Agony - I was too hot and miserable to enjoy the run physically, and I was too worried about the hornets to enjoy the run emotionally.  But that's how it goes with runners: through pain, we find serenity.  The greater the agony, the greater the eventual absolution.

Part 6. The Void - It was on this day, during this terrible and wonderful run, that a thought occurred to me, a thought which has never left me: I've always considered the question to be "Why am I alive?  Why am I here?  What's the point of me?"  And to that I say: WHO CARES!  FORGET THE WHY.  You are in a raging forest full of beauty and agony and magical grapey beverages and lightning storms and demon bees.  THIS IS BETTER THAN THE WHY.

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