Transcendence

AJWs Taproom

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.”

Bottoms Up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Ska Brewing Modus HoperandiThis 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?

There are 14 comments

  1. Ricardo

    Ahhh, the wonder and magic of it all… one foot in front of the other has certainly gotten me not just to a bunch of finish lines, but also through some life challenges. Run on Andy, and keep writing your running love letters!

  2. Tim

    I used to only think I might find that place in races, but I remember a facebook post of yours back in January or February when you were building up training for WS, and you found this on a training run. For some reason I remember you talking about putting your coffee pot on that morning and heading into the dark. Ant it was all of a sudden one of the best runs ever.

    Since then, I changed my perspective- it really resonated with me, and I too have found that place- once so far in a race and three or four times on training runs. It can happen in the rain or sun, sleep or hail. Not just in summer ultras.

    I love running.

  3. James Kennedy

    First of all, awesome article. I would say to the first question that I have yet to experience that sort of transcendent run – but I've only been running for a few months, so there's still plenty of chances for it to happen! I can definitely say that running is making me a better version of myself. I feel fitter, stronger, and happier. I used to eat bad food and just do stupid things, but now that I've picked up running I have a better diet, and I don't want to do those stupid things as much anymore.

  4. Michael

    until reading your description of "transcendence" i did not know if anyone else had experienced such a phenomenon. however, your writing vividly describes an experience so close to how i have felt on several occasions during a long run that i cannot help but think we might all feel this incredible feeling/joy/sense of being alive in a similar manner. amazing really. thanks for writing!

  5. Rob P

    AJW…. I'm 4 weeks down with a little disc giving me trouble and its been tough not being amidst the wilds, feeling those moments of body/soul/nature convergence, yet I know that soon I will be back on trails baiting the gods & goddesses of trancendence to pounce upon me with full force, without warning, their random acts of benevolence and inspiration.

    I appreciate your translation of what makes this movement so important to those of us whom have become converts to this "way". It's keeping me focused and respectful of the healing process, but oh, i so look forward to the mud, dust and vistas that have brought tears to me in beauty and in physiological torment.

    Make it great!

  6. Gabrielle

    My moments of transcendence have come about two to three times since last November when I starting running again. I almost died a little over two years ago and was told I would never run again and life would not be the same. Through sheer determination and a lot of good old fashion Irish stubbornness, my climb up a flight of stairs and gasping for air turned into 15 minutes on the elliptical machine. And the elliptical machine for months and months turned into a very short run which grew longer and longer. After awhile the cuss words in my head slowly turned to happy thoughts. In February I crossed the finish line at a half marathon and in May I crossed the finish line at the Mountains to Beaches Marathon in 4:15. Although those were moments of transcendence they were somewhat fleeting. My greatest moment of transcendence came about 10 days ago when I was trail running though the Ho Rain Forest in Washington State with my boyfriend. It gets quite wet there. I tripped on a rock that was hidden by the brush and I was literally covered in mud from head to toe, scraped up and bleeding to boot. After the fall and on the run back, my boyfriend wanted to cheer me up so he decided to amuse me by running naked for a bit through the forest or as he put, it "Running Naked with the Ho." I don't think I have laughed that hard in years. Especially since he is a totally conservative guy! He put his clothes back on and we continued to laugh and laugh the whole journey back. That was my moment….. the moment where I felt the forest, the joy of the fresh air, the joy of running and the joy of just being alive… the feeling still has not left me since! :-)

  7. Dustin

    This is fantastic, I know exactly what you are talking about. I am taking on my first 100 miler this weekend and I hope that "Smirk" finds me.

  8. Derek D

    I like to follow an approach I developed afterwards reading Stuart Mittlemans approach from his book 'slow burn'

    B. Breathe (breathe through the belky)
    G. Ground (feel the earth rotate under your feet
    O. Observe, in turn use all five senses to observe everything around you.
    H. Heal, check your body for tension from head to toe, breathe into all areas of tension.

    Repeat as required, or try it continuously for a great run.

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