Why we do what we do.
Lately, and especially recently, the dreaded injury bug (a compressed disc at L-4-L-5 that doesn’t tolerate the impact from running well at all) has forced me to take to the trails as a hiker instead of a runner. Mind you, hiking ain’t bad, but it’s definitely not running, and it makes me grumpy. I’ve been thinking a lot about why it matters so much to me. Why do I care whether I run or hike? What is it about running that is so damn important to me. If you’re like me – and of course we’re all different with our own motivations and drivers – which some of you are, you know that it’s a many-faceted answer. There is no one single thing that makes us get out the door, but there are definitely many things that together have made running on trails a definitive part of my life and my identity. Bottom line is that I just love to run.
Running undoubtedly makes me feel alive and vital. There really is nothing like that feeling of powering up a steep hill or nimbly and even occasionally gracefully leaping down one, though that graceful things is actually pretty rare. I feel connected both to this bag of nerves, muscle and bones, and to the ground on which I play. No feeling comes close to that of reaching the end or the finish, spent, but fully content and satisfied, knowing you’ve left it out there.
Likewise there is this child-like joy that comes from simply being outdoors, on the trails, moving – sometimes in sync with it all. Nothing brings a smile to this weary old face quite like a jaunt in the woods or high above treeline - the incredible views, the spectacular scenery, especially here in CO. There simply are not many things in my world that do that. Even a rough day on the trails, where something hurts or the body just refuses to cooperate, ends with a feeling of both gratitude and joy. Gratitude that I could do that – get the pieces to get me through. Joy in the accomplishment, both during and after. Rarely do I not feel better – more positive, more clear, more in tune – after a run.
Maybe it’s what the Japanese call Forest Bathing, maybe it’s simply being outdoors in the natural world, away from the hubbub of everyday life, but a day on the trails – even an hour on the trails – refreshes body, mind and spirit. I never wear ear buds when I’m outdoors – for me it’s contrary to the whole experience. I love the wind rustling the trees, the sounds of my feet on the dirt, the squawking birds and chirping squirrels. I never feel so alive.
No doubt, too, I have addictive tendencies; a part of the genetic make-up. it’s there. There are alcoholics and workaholics and all kinds of other addicts in my line. I could easily drink like a fish, easily. But I choose to channel that tendency elsewhere – which is another reason it hurts so much not to run. I need it. I crave it. I miss it. So far - knock on wood - I haven’t replaced it with another less positive tendency. Yet. Never say never.
It’s been who I am – in addition, of course, to husband, father, son, sibling, teacher, lawyer, whatever. But it’s been a constant – and one that’s defined and clear for me. And I’ve been successful – winning races, placing in races, being recognized for that. Competition has been a huge part of it - testing oneself, even succeeding now and again. That is reinforcing no doubt. Those days are long gone - way back in the rear view. But they’re there. Or were. Glory days….no thanks, not really.
Clarity – there is no place I go or anything I do that offers that clarity for me. Inevitably, I solve my own – and often the world’s – problems over the course of a long run on the trails. Of course, half the time I forget those seemingly simple solutions by the time I’m back at the trailhead, but that’s not really what matters. What matters is the clarity that comes to my thinking when I’m grinding up or flying down, arms pumping or swirling to keep me on track and upright.
Friends and community - there is no friend like a training partner. You talk, you push one another, you share - even occasionally unspoken, But it’s there. Nowadays - who do I call to go for a hike. A hike? No thanks, they say, I’ve got socks to sort. Or something like that.
So many reasons to love it. All real and all somehow irreplaceable. Truth be told, hiking isn’t all bad – it takes me outside to spectacular places with incredible views where I can still test myself. But it’s not the same, not as pure, not as alive. Maybe it’s perception, maybe it’s real, but, straight up, there’s a huge difference when you pass another body on the trail and they tell you to have a “nice walk” versus “enjoy your run.”