Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Long Run: A Parable

I love running because of the simplicity. In fact, I get a little uneasy when conversations of hydration belts, gels, electrolytes, and strategies come into the room and take the focus away from the beauty of the sport. Sure, many of the above allow runners to accomplish greater feats and enjoy the sport in greater doses, but I think the magic and the greatest understanding of the answer to the ultimate question: "So, why do you run?"is encapsulated in two elements: the runner and the journey.

My initial disappointment and inevitably destructive attitude when I was trying to whip myself back into shape the first couple of times were because I was trying to feed the feeling. The desire to go further on the course, and deeper into myself. I stood fat and cardiovascularly challenged, remembering the peace and serenity I often found during my Sunday long runs in college. Sometimes it was about the view, other times it was about the sense of accomplishment, but most of the time it was the freedom to be away from the other factors in life that subdue our senses and cause us to put on a facade to appear to be the right person in the right place. Over the long run, it is just you and the distance.

On a few occasions I have had the privilege to train with other runners and share simple, yet profound, observations of the more important things in life. My freshman year of college was my first year of cross country, and my first year training with a weekly long run. As one of the faster frosh, the second fastest runner on the team, I was given the task of shadowing the senior captain of the team each Sunday afternoon. It didn't take long before John and I were sharing stories from our personal lives as we chased the miles away. You learn to trust others quickly, and spending so much time training together you establish a trust. Not only does the long run teach trust, but it begs honesty.

There is absolutely no faking it on the long run. I have trained with people that have not opened up to me about all of their issues and beliefs, but there is almost always a mutual respect. It is established that everyone in the group is asked to accomplish the same thing. Some might do it faster and with more grace, but at the end of the journey, we are all part of the same club. This is the lesson I wish we could teach to everyone around the world. Perhaps this is revelation that could end the horrors of our time. The human race is the same. At the end of the journey we are all brothers and sisters through the experience. It is true that I have no clue what it feels like to be racially profiled, or have to wake up each morning worrying about bullets flying through the window, or know the depression and destitution of homelessness, but I have experienced pain, depression, happiness, and accomplishment. Emotionally we are all on the same level.

Individually, though, the long run represents reflection and challenge. One week your long run can be filled with pain and disappointment, the next it can be a flowing work of art where you simply cruise over the miles without a care in the world. It can be a period of time where one is lost in the euphoria of effortlessness, and then around another corner the pain of every plodding step is felt to the core. Whether the effort is easy or hard, the fact remains that we choose to face whatever comes. Hills, stream crossings, snowfields, traffic filled intersections, open fields of alfalfa, dusty deserts..... Adversity, challenge, loneliness, chaos, happiness, despair.... life and the long run are both a continuous interwoven cloth of separate moments.

As in life, the only way to approach the long run is to simply put one foot in front of the other.

Happy trails!

1 comment:

Dan said...

Hi Rob
You said what many runners have felt, but so few could but into words. Your writing is thoughtful, insightful and inspiring. Thanks for your contribution. Continue to enjoy the journey.