The Craftsman

His process is pure nature, a raw, human thing. – The Heart of a Craftsman on Shawn Freeman

Ever since I started running, I have often thought of the activity as a craft. At the beginning, my interests lay primarily in exploring wild places in nature. Running was the simplest tool to interact with the environment, with few barriers standing between me and the experience. I saw foot as brush, land as canvas. The creative dimension came through foot upon land, an ephemeral art of passing by. The craft, however, was one-directional, in that I sought to create something by running over the land, as if movement when fine and elegant, could make something beautiful transpire. Temporary footprints on the earth left nothing transformative in me or directly tangible that I could share with others.

With time, I came to find that movement, the act of running, was in itself interesting, independent of my surroundings. Running began to have its own identity, shaping me, my body, mind and spirit. The tool was no longer an outward mechanism to explore, but instead a way to look inside. Running morphed for me into a crafting of Self. I got interested in the minutia of miles and splits, workouts and the mechanisms of the sport. My goal was to better myself through running, to become fitter and stronger, both physically and mentally. Crafting in such a manner reduced my awareness of the wilds with too much focus within. I was getting better at running, but learning less about the land.

Now I have come to a place, where turning outward is just as important as turning inward. Land and Self interact and through this relationship a deeper type of craft is born: one of symbiosis, of inner reflection and outward feel. For me now, running as a craft is a meeting of movement and place.

Through training I hone my will and discipline. Burning summers, frigid winters, early rises, harsh elements shape me inside and out. My daily practice oscillates between struggle and renewal, much like the seasons. It is easy to be disciplined when the body is strong, movement is fluid and the sun is shining. It is easy to push hard, train incessantly, revel in excess. However, it is more difficult to hold back, rest, listen and truly cultivate discipline through balance. Running as a craft requires patience, the careful molding of one’s relationship with the land. In Joss Naylor’s words, learn the rocks.

Racing is an opportunity to share one’s craft. Coming together, we collectively express months of individual toil. The race provides a framework, a reference to exchange over an otherwise often solitary pursuit.

Through adventuring I hone my spirit. I follow what truly inspires me, without expectation, surrendering completely to the experience. Some adventures are pleasant and uplifting, others demand more of me and push me beyond comfort. In the freedom of the hills, I find my creativity. An underlying element of running as craft is the notion of relationship between me and the land. From the fleeting, ephemeral art of movement in my early perceptions, to the honing of Self, to the more subtle exchange with the land, my craft is driven by heart. I love the movement, I love the relationship with the land.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you a craftswoman or craftsman? If you’re not a craftsperson of running, do you have another craft?
  • What words in Joe’s description of his craft ring true to you? And, what other thoughts did his words inspire?

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Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 23 comments

      1. Andy

        I knew I wasn't running enough. My feet are way too intact.

        Both text and images paint a sublime portrait of running as craft. The battered feet are the tools and the majestic mountains the canvass. Speaking of which, what's the iconic peak in the third pic? (Sorry, poor east coaster here without intimate knowledge of Joe's backyard).

        1. stjepan

          The peak in the third pic is Matterhorn, Swiss. Zermatt is a little town placed directly bellow the mountain. I've been there once, before my running days (sigh). The scenery is breathtaking to say the least, all around this area.

          Just this past weekend there were a couple of races held (the longest beeing 46k). That was the very first iteration of the event called Matterhorn Ultraks.

          Highly recommended to anyone who can visit.

  1. Ian

    This is one the best wee bits of writing about running I have read. Being fairly new to running long distances, especially trails, it is great to read something that details what I hope to achieve and sets a path towards my own goals.

    Thank you.

  2. Matt

    Very nice Joe. This piece captures much of what running is to many of us.

    It also reminds me of the concepts derived from what Daniel Pink writes about in his book Drive. The three things that we need to be happy and driven in any of our tasks.

    Autonomy

    Mastery

    Purpose

    Those are what "drive" us more than money, more than material. Running and I think especially in the mountains on trails fit these ideals perfectly. The trails and races we run at their best allow us to reach a state of flow stemming from a difficulty that is perfectly in balance with our fitness. As we purposely practice our craft the route difficulty on which we can obtain that flow will shift as well, creating entirely new experiences over familiar routes. Personally I find balancing the time I put into the mastery of something like running and mastery of my "real" job to be a difficult task at times, but finding that balance is oh so rewarding when it comes together.

  3. Geoff

    A sublime and beautiful piece of writing. Only someone who has committed many, many hours to developing their heart, mind and feet could know themselves and their running in this way.

  4. Jim

    A great piece Joe! I think people(at least myself) really reflect on these moments specifically myself and being injured. Mileage was all I thought about but then running at Geoff Roes camps and learning the "adventuring" side of it, mileage goes right out the window. The stories of adventures from the likes of you, TK, and Geoff are what I hope to achieve in my own "Self" after recovery.

  5. Dave

    "It is easy to push hard, train incessantly, revel in excess. However, it is more difficult to hold back, rest, listen and truly cultivate discipline through balance. Running as a craft requires patience…"

    Insightful. And very well said. Thanks, Joe.

  6. Daniel Westcar Rowla

    A great post Joe. In many ways it reminds me of the professional cyclists who have thought of their cycling as a "métier". The way you describe running is a beautiful framework that evokes hand-crafted products that are unique and special because of the skill and dedication put into them by the craftsman.

  7. Shaun

    Well written. I've never thought of it as a craft but I approach it like I do my other crafts. I am very deliberate. I am so deliberate that people think I am reckless. The way I look at it though if I've considered all the possibilities especially the pitfalls, I can confidently venture out. People say I'm crazy because despite the dangers, I feel very comfortable running by myself all day in the mountains. I look at my adventures as calculated and now, as my craft. Thanks!

  8. PutMeBackOnMyBike

    First off, I'm not trolling – I'm genuinely asking this question because I'm interested in other's thoughts, so go easy on me. Can anyone define "relationship with the land" and "subtle exchanges with the land" in a non-poetically licensed manner. These are terms that are repeatedly used in running and climbing articles, but never actually defined in real terms.

    I love to run and experience the feelings and sensations, but all of the experience is contained within us – the beauty of the landscape, the sensations of rapid motion are our own. This is beautifully captured in another article on this site (Why do have to run so much) and is summarised as Joy.

    My contention is that We don't have a relationship with the land, we have a sensation, an experience that the land is not a part of – likewise we don't exchange with it, we run on it.

    I rarely see these terms applied to cycling, a sport in which I get similar sensory experiences to running and I wonder why this is.

    1. Eric C

      It's because we bikers are so involved in our relationship with our equipment (ooooh, high modulus carbon fiber!!!) that it overwhelms any subtle relationship with the land. :)

      But more seriously, consider that there really isn't and can't be a minimalist movement in cycling. (the urban fixie scene is pretty irrelevant to the points being discussed here). There is no primitive form of cycling, it is a technological exercise at its very core. Running has no such necessary reliance on technology, and in my experience is profoundly more pleasing without it.

      That, and for whatever reasons, I think more slowly when I'm running, to topics like this have time to come up.

  9. Doug

    Good question, I'll take a stab at it…

    I definitely develop relationships with the places I run. I gain intimacy with these places. My respect grows as intimacy of place deepens and my cooperation with place develops with this intimacy(knowledge). Just as it does with the relationships I develop with people.

    Whether or not this was Joe's intent, that is how I interpret his words. IMO sensations are emotional and physical byproducts of that relationship, not another way to describe the same thing.

    To me, subtle exchange refers to the cooperation through knowledge of place, as well as the profound yet intangible moments of the experience. Moments that are probably best left in the abstract. That said, Joe did as fine a job as anyone in describing the intangibles vs. the easily documented, categorized and cataloged.

  10. Gary

    Trail running presents an opportunity for interaction with the land that is particular and unique… an opportunity that is easily dismissed through distraction or ignorance (not in the insulting sense, but in literally ignoring what's happening all around). Such opportunities for interaction seem more difficult while on pavement or on a machine.

    The condition of the trail, the rise and fall of the land, the type of soil underfoot, the weather… each of these aspects of the land present a different face nearly every time I head out for a run.

    Therefore you relate to a place on its terms at a given moment. There are times the hills will not let you pass at all. There are other times when they will let you pass, but at a much slower pace. Sometimes they let you run free and easy as if you were very nearly flying.

    And so, you take what the land/ hills/ mountains/ fields/ trails give you in a moment, in a place, in a time.

    There are times when I just get my run in and ignore all of this… when I simply "run on it" the way you describe.

    But the best runs are when I tune into the land, the weather, the moment and then listen to my body and bring it all together into an experience. That's the good stuff. And that takes presence of mind and heart and body and a measure of intentionality.

    Like just last night on Green Mountain (Lakewood, not Boulder) when the sun had just set and the dusk was settling and there was a wind whipping up from the dark, slate grey storm clouds rolling in…

  11. PutMeBackOnMyBike

    Doug, Eric, Gary – really appreciate your responses to the question, and great responses they are too. One of the interesting things for me, is that the level of concentration required on my mountain bike, and to a less intense extent (but for obvious safety reasons, still there) on my road bike, I can never zone out – even though the road bike can be almost hypnotic at times. But when out on the trails running, numerous times I have zoned out completely and "come to" several kilometres later thinking to myself "I don't remember getting here" and that is a magical feeling in this modern, informationally-overloaded world, but I have always attributed that to the running process itself, a sort of motion induced hypnosis, rather than as a relationship with the trail. Perhaps that really is part of that subtle exchange and relationship and I just haven't viewed it that way before. Perhaps as an engineer I just tend to look for a physical explanation to the chemically and electrically induced states and emotions inside and as Doug said "…sensations are emotional and physical byproducts of that relationship, not another way to describe the same thing". In fact, the more I think about that, I never zoned out as a road runner, it only happened after I switched exclusively to trails (and I hate running on roads now as the experience just isn't as satisfying).

    Lots to think about on my next runs and rides, so thanks for the exchange.

    Happy trails guys,

    Adrian.

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