Revisiting Running as Play

The most cherished place on the campus of the school I run here in Arkansas is a three-acre plot of […]

By on December 4, 2020 | Comments

AJW's TaproomThe most cherished place on the campus of the school I run here in Arkansas is a three-acre plot of beautiful land behind our Main Building known simply as “Wonderspace.” A whimsical place with a climbing apparatus, tree house, sand pit, courts for a variety of games, and a clubhouse, the Wonderspace provides a refuge from the rest of life for our students and our teachers.

Our school philosophy toward play is built on the notion that play at school is more than just recess. When learning is self-initiated and self-directed in the Wonderspace, it goes deeper and lasts longer. A recent visitor to the Delta School remarked to me when observing our students at play in the Wonderspace, “They all are so engaged, so engrossed in what they are doing. It’s almost like they don’t know what else is going on around them.” Of course, this year, as with many parts of school life, we have needed to make modifications to Wonderspace to keep everyone healthy, but it remains an integral part of our program and is essential to our daily school life.

A few years ago I wrote an article on play and suggested that we, as runners, have a unique opportunity to open ourselves up to the wonder of play each time we lace up our shoes, so long as we allow ourselves the time and the space to do so. In the midst of this extraordinary year, when so many parts of daily life have been upended, it seems to me that play can hold a special place in a runner’s heart. While we may not be able to participate in organized events or go out for a long day in the mountains with a large group of friends, we can still get absorbed in running the same way my students become absorbed in their play on the Wonderspace.

I thought about this on a recent, solo long run in a local state park. I was familiar with most of the trails and the ways they could be strung together to form loops and such, but I had never really run them in a wandering way. I had always run with a specific distance and route in mind. On this particular day, however, I just wandered where the trail took me, paying little mind to how far I went or what it would take for me to get back to where I started. I became absorbed in the experience and, as a result, upon my return from the run, it somehow felt more meaningful and purposeful, and, most of all, a lot more fun.

As we all look ahead to what will, hopefully, be a brighter future, it seems to me that for the time being, finding opportunities to bring playful whimsy into our runs could make them a lot more pleasant. In addition, by tapping into a little of the youthful joy that hard times can sometimes drain out of us, we can be reminded of the importance of living in the moment, finding simple joys where we can, and reveling in this thing we love so much, even if it’s a little different these days.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from long-time Taproom favorite Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. While it was released in the spring of 2020, I only recently was able to try Sierra Nevada’s special 40th Anniversary IPA, called 40th Hoppy Anniversary Ale. Brewed to be representative of the classic, bold taste of old-school West Coast IPAs, 40th strikes the perfect balance between intense, piney hoppiness and smooth, caramel sweetness. This is an ample tribute beer from one of the best in the business.

Call for Comments

  • Does running ever become play for you?
  • If so, under what circumstances does this come about?

All photos: Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.