Someone recently asked me why it is that I run. I thought that was such a funny question until I actually stopped to think about it. In the nearly three decades that I have been running, I haven’t once stopped to ask why. Thousands of miles, hours upon hours poured into this pastime, and I’ve never questioned it. It was just something that I did—something ingrained into my being like my DNA.
But then I started to think about it. I mean, why is it that any of us do the things we enjoy? Well, someone might say, we enjoy it—that’s precisely why we do it. But I thought there’s got to be more to it than that.
So, why do I run? What is it that makes me get out of bed at 6:30am on a Saturday morning to go on a grueling 25-miler up the side of a mountain? What fun was there in that? What was it in me or in the act of running that drove me to willingly do this? That made me think this was an enjoyable activity?
The best way I can describe the feeling is to equate it to the way a dog sticks its head out of a window, ears and tongue flapping in the wind, happy as can be. That’s sort of how running feels. The world melts away. You are untethered. Everything fades into the background, like the recesses of a photograph, and your inner lens hyper-focuses on what’s in front of you: the dirt, the trees, the sky. Your inner mental chatter begins to quiet, to dissolve. You feel it being replaced by this spacious, buoyant freedom, like an out-of-body experience. Trance-like. All you are is your breath and the crunch of gravel under your feet and the trail ahead of you.
Few experiences in life have given me this same kind of feeling, and the ones that do always involve nature. Running, especially on the trails, creates this strange connection between you and the earth. It’s a kind of meditation (a statement which, I fully realize, might leave someone wondering). To be fair, meditation is simply the act of contemplating or reflecting on something for an extended period of time. Of continually giving your attention to only one thing. Admittedly, the word “meditation” may have spiritual undertones, and perhaps running is a kind of spiritual experience in a way. After all, it’s something that you devote yourself to, this vague feathery notion that you believe in—despite virtually no concrete proof as to why, save for this funny feeling in the pit of your stomach.
The thing is, running is a kind of language, and perhaps it’s the newness, the discovery of it that keeps me hooked. It’s a language between you and the trail, between you and your body, between you and your breath. A language that you are constantly learning, that never ceases to self-invent new words and intonations and flows. It’s this evolving, ever-changing amoeba. It’s a language that is never fully complete, that you are never quite fluent in.
Perhaps the reason I run is even simpler than all that: it gives me something to focus on. A goal. Something to drive me forward. Because isn’t that what we need? Motion. Direction. I suppose some might even call it purpose. We all need to feel like we are moving towards something. Stagnation, left unchecked, will quickly eat away at you from the inside, out. Perhaps it’s a false reassurance, this staged performance to trick ourselves into the thinking that we’re moving from Point A to Point B. This seemingly tangible proof of movement—that our days, weeks, months have structure. Then again, I suppose there are worse mind tricks we could play on ourselves.
So why is it that I run? I suppose it’s a combination of these factors and a whole range of other ones I’m not even aware of. Needs or wants or validations that my subconscious is seeking. And maybe all this thinking about why I run—the fact that this was the first time I even stopped to think about it—is validation enough of why I run. Maybe the reason is just that: because I don’t need to think about it. Because it’s this natural thing that just feels right. Maybe we have these parts of us we can’t quite explain but that are innately and permanently etched into who we are—puzzle pieces that are unique to us, essentials in our life that we need like water or food. For some that’s dance, or painting, or writing. For some, we just need to run.
So, why do I run, you ask? I’m not quite sure. But I know that I need it like I need air.