A few years ago I participated in a day long workshop with Dr. Stuart Brown, co-author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Dr. Brown has devoted his career to studying play and its importance to us as functioning, successful humans. Defined as “purposeless, all-consuming, and restorative,” Dr. Brown asserts that play for adults and children alike, is its own reward and should not be considered a guilty pleasure but rather an essential part of life.
Brown’s foundational notion is that we are designed by nature to flourish through play and that it is through active play, even into adulthood, that our minds and bodies evolve. For me, and I assume many other distance runners, running is our form of play. Running provides us with that place where we can be our authentic selves, get swept up in the moment, and return to the simple joys of childhood.
I find myself running more playfully each year right around midsummer. The rhythm of my training year typically has me running a bit more purposefully and deliberately from January until June culminating, more often than not, with an early summer race. Then, after a brief period of recovery, I return to running in a space where it is more play and less work. In this time of the year my running is less structured, more organic, sometimes creative, and often spontaneous. In this playful period in my running life, I am more motivated by the process than by the outcome and, in its essence, my running has a more significant emotional impact on me than at other times of the year.
Running is, for many of us, not just something we do but a big part of who we are. In fact, many runners with whom I’ve shared time out on the roads or the trails, seem to me to be engaged in the activity not just for what it does to and for them but also into whom it makes them. Long-distance running can indeed be transformative and as a form of play it can lead one to periods of growth and transcendence that are similar to that pre-school child on the playground. A place that regular workaday life simply doesn’t access.
So, the next time you’re out on a run open yourself up to play. Let the experience of putting one foot in front of the other define the experience and allow it to sweep you away. Running at the most basic level can remind us of our youth. As a transcendent form of play it can remind us of the joys and mysteries of childhood in ways that few other things can, as long as we give it the time and space to let it.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week is not a summer beer but a deep rich porter from Perrin Brewing Company in Comstock, Michigan. Their award-winning No Rules Vietnamese Imperial Porter is a massive, 15% ABV, coconut-infused masterpiece. Simply one of the best porters I have ever had, No Rules certainly does seem to stretch the boundaries in ways that few other beers do.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you play? Do you legitimately let yourself get so involved in something physical for the pure joy of it that you forget everything else?
- How innate is the element of play in your running?
- Do you ever start to take your running a little too seriously than what you know is good for you? In those times, do you remind yourself of the basal joy it offers you?