Pay Attention!

AJWs TaproomAs a father and an educator, I spend a fair amount of time imploring kids to pay attention. And, it seems like these days, I am doing it more and more. I am not sure if this is all due to the technological distractions kids have these days or simply the fact that there are so many things competing for kids’ attention, but more and more I find it difficult for kids to center, focus, and pay attention.

I was thinking about this last Sunday on my eight-mile run on Ridge Road here in Charlottesville. Ridge Road is a popular running destination for all the locals here. It is a nice, soft dirt road with ample shade and gently rolling hills. Basically, it’s the kind of bucolic running environment that allows me to lose myself in the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

Since moving to Central Virginia four years ago, I have probably run Ridge Road over 100 times. Winter, spring, summer, and fall I have traversed this road. Sometimes I’ve run fast, other times I’ve run slow. At times it’s a slog and at other times seem to just flow along. Ridge is a great training test piece as well as an ideal place to unwind. During my run this past Sunday, about two miles in, I found myself looking around, noticing things I hadn’t seen before. My attention became sharp and my run became free.

The light shining through the leaves, the horses at the fenceposts, the subtly changing road surface, and the sound of the wind all converged to focus my attention to the present. This focus allowed me to gradually become absorbed in the moment. When I got back to my car I remained in that ephemeral space and as I drove home, I thought about how running uniquely allows me to pay attention and I wondered how I might extend that to my work with kids.

Certainly, the act of running in and of itself improves attentiveness both for the short and long term. Are there ways that this natural evolution can be extended to the rest of life both with and for our communal well-being? I know for me, modern life has a way of dividing attention in ways I never would have imagined 25 years ago. Only through the conscious act of focused attention can I find a way out of a distracted mind. The best way I know to do that is to lace up my shoes and get out the door. I wish everyone had the chance to feel that way too!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Ballast Point Brewing Company Dorado Double IPAThe week’s Beer of the Week comes from Ballast Point Brewing Company in San Diego, California. This great brewery, known for their award-winning Sculpin IPA, recently introduced an outstanding Double IPA called Dorado. Tipping the scales at 10% ABV and 90 IBUs, Dorado is not for the faint of heart but is surprisingly smooth drinking.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What parts or conditions of trail running make you become fully attentive to your actions and surroundings?
  • Does practicing attentiveness while running help you tend to the rest of your life?
  • What happens if and when your attention lapses from life or running?

There are 5 comments

  1. senelly

    Would you please repeat that? I was texting and missed it…! Seriously, I have 1) missed a crucial turn on a 100-miler and 2) watched as half a dozen runners missed an over-the-top-marked turn in a 10k trail race I was conducting. My own miss was entirely due to inattention. It was the middle of the night, it was not particularly well-marked. I ran another 5 miles to a dead end before I stopped and experienced a moment of ultra-amnesia. Thanks dead end. You kept me from a much longer, extra out-and-back. I remember telling myself PAY ATTENTION as I retraced my bogus steps. Now, my very last instruction in races I conduct is PAY ATTENTION. Oh, and stay in the moment… Thanks AJW.

  2. northacrosseurope

    I find it hard to be outside and not pay attention. I don't have to be running… even stepping out the front door first thing in the morning I find my attention instantly grabbed by some natural sight, scent or sound: the smell of growth, the staccato rat-a-tat-tat of a northern flicker pecking for bugs, clouds sailing across the sky.

    You talk about kids at the start… and I count myself fortunate that my two are choosing more and more to play in our semi-wild backyard. Hours and hours of unstructured outdoor time… soooo beneficial, in too many ways to list. Personally, I wish our educational system put as much emphasis on outdoor play as it does on academics and testing. Every small patch of earth, local park and wasteland can be a classroom, a classroom that gives the imagination, and the ability to focus, an opportunity to grow. It's wishful thinking I'm sure, but just imagine if society valued outdoor time as much as learning to read!

  3. @Stepha_Jo

    I run trail in the backcountry of Montana – either alone or with my dog. Over the years, as my confidence with heading deeper in the forest has increased along with my fitness, I have noticed that the acuity of my senses have developed at a similar rate. This is partially a component of flow-state running, partially an act of survival – that primal instinct to protect oneself from a surprised grizzly, a protective mamma moose, a landscape without enough water, a building thunderstorm. On the trail, my peripheral vision will pick up the tiniest movements with laser focus. Many times I sense the presence of an animal well before I see or hear it. There are sunny days in regular life when I think, “oh it’s so nice and sunny out, what a wonderful day” but that is actually a hollow observation. On the trail, my awareness of the sun’s radiation is total. It feels like my whole body is literally drinking in sunshine. Sometimes the sensation almost makes me cry with gratitude. When running with my dog, especially in the later summer, I internally search for water like radar continually scanning the area. The more water we can find, the less I have to give him from my pack, and the farther we can go. Little observations give me clues – that fold in the mountain means the water runs this way…the shady part under that rocky outcropping might still have standing water this time of year…that cool breeze could be coming off of a small creek.

  4. @Stepha_Jo

    (accidentally posted before done writing…)

    On the trail I feel awake, aware, part of the world, part of the plant and animal kingdom. I feel my body’s presence on the Earth. It is a state of hyper-awareness that I cannot reproduce in other parts of my life. It is one of the biggest reasons I continue to keep going out into the woods to run. I agree with you AJW, paying attention is important. Modern life’s ability to distract us is probably destructive in ways that we don't totally understand yet. And I feel that people who are not able to pay attention to and engage with their world are missing out on actually feeling alive.

  5. DogrunnerDavid

    The practice of zen meditation, regardless of your religion, is one answer for sure. A book called Opening the Hand of Thought and the daily practice it describes provides the anecdote to so many of life's problems.

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