Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
For those of us who have found running and made it an essential part of our lives, there are always stories. Stories about how we got into the sport and stories that have kept us here. Losing weight, improving heart function, lowering blood pressure, finding a competitive outlet, discovering new places, sharing the love of the outdoors with others, the stories are plentiful and deep. Indeed, running is not only egalitarian in access but also profoundly diverse in purpose. The reasons we came here and the reasons we stay here are intertwined and complex. And, for me, that is one of running’s unique charms.
Which ever way we got here, running is not only something we do, it is who we are. Whether we’re the weekend warrior 5k runner or the 100-mile ultra-distance racer, the simple act of putting one foot in front of another unites us and pulls us together in ways that few outside the sport can understand. From the rugged individual hammering up a Rocky Mountain peak to the charity-group runner logging miles on a nameless Midwestern bike trail, running has a way of connecting people that few other activities can. And, it is in that context that this sport has the power to change lives.
For me, regardless of how I came to be here, I find the greatest allure of running, and the greatest ultimate satisfaction of running, to be the way in which it allows me to transcend the day-to-day. The way it has given me a place to which I can move beyond my everyday life and find something that is at once emotional and spiritual in both theory and practice. The truly transcendent nature of running!
Certainly, most of the time, I’d say about 95 percent of the time, my running is simply part of my everyday life. It’s something that helps me get through the rest of my life but is also something that I do simply because I like to do, or perhaps some would say, need to do. However, in that other five percent, that place where running takes me away, lies a satisfaction and a gratification that is fleeting and ephemeral at worst and downright transformative and revolutionary at best.
The funny thing is, I can’t simply make it happen. I can’t just jump into my running shoes and say,”Today, I am going on a transcendent run!” Rather, the transcendence needs to find me. I’d venture to guess that perhaps 100 times in 18 years of running has it found me. One hundred times I have been taken to that place I don’t want to leave and my life, indeed, my spirit has been made better simply by the experience. Sometimes it happens on that random weekday run in the pre-dawn gloom and other times it finds me in that glorious intersection between fantasy and reality on a high mountain ridge in the Rockies. Regardless, when it finds me, I know it.
Usually it starts with a feeling in my loins. It’s a bit like heartburn but also something more visceral. Something that tugs at my chest and forces me to pay attention. Then, a rather offensive smirk develops on my face. It’s different than a smile. It’s more cat than dog, if you know what I mean. If you look at the pictures from Western States this year, you’ll see the smirk emerge right around Foresthill. Right around the time my wife, Shelly, said, “Oh, so you’ve decided to start racing now?” When I am smirking in this uncontrollable way, I feel paradoxically arrogant and vulnerable. Yet, somehow, I also feel at peace with who I am and what I am doing. In those transcendent moments, I have come to a place where I can effortlessly move beyond the daily reality of running and become engaged in something deeper, bigger, more purposeful than just running.
And, in that moment, as hard as it is to admit, nothing else really matters. It’s as if I have found a way home that nobody knows about and only I care about. As profoundly self-indulgent as it is to be in that moment it is also part of what makes running, and running really long distances in particular, so invigorating, perplexing, and purposeful. It sounds cliché, but those experiences make me whole. And those experiences keep me coming back for more, again and again, year after year, hoping, as Mary Oliver implores us all to do, to find my place “in the family of things.”
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Ska Brewing in Durango, Colorado. In honor of these weekend’s Hardrock 100, we should all tip back a few 16-ounce cans of their killer American IPA Modus Hoperandi. Weighing in at just under seven percent and featuring about 80 IBUs, this is, quite frankly, a rather balanced IPA given the typical Colorado standards. Here’s wishing all the Hardrockers good luck this weekend!
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you have moments of transcendence? Do they come at certain times or, like AJW, more randomly? When was the last time this happened to you?
- I’m sure most of us can agree that running makes us better people. How does running make you a better version of you?