Running And The Spiritual Trail

AJW's TaproomThe great theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer characterized spirituality as “that feeling of significance that comes from a sense of being connected to a world beyond ourselves that is at once coherent and purposeful.” From my perspective, there is nothing more spiritual in my life as my running. Running not only connects me to a larger world but, indeed, brings coherence and purpose to an otherwise scattered and chaotic life.

I reflected on this passage last weekend as I spent half a day running through the eastern woodlands on a sneaky early spring day. I looked back on my life as a runner and forward to my hopes and dreams for the future and couldn’t help but revel in all the spiritual gifts running has given me. At the risk of coming across as corny or sappy, I have to admit that running has brought me closer to my spirit than anything else in my life. All this is done by connecting me to that bigger something that has been elusive in other parts of my life.

What that bigger something is exactly, I am not sure. But what I do know is that when I am out there–in the mountains, the woods, the desert, and the country–I am at peace. And that peace emanates soulfully and simultaneously from what’s inside and outside. We, as humans, long for belonging, we strive for a sense of connectedness, and we yearn for whatever that world beyond might bring us. We may not know it in the moment, but there is something inherently hopeful in the human endeavor. And, I have to say, there are few places, if any, in this life where I feel more human than when I run.

Meaning and purpose are fleeting. And yet, organized into some sense of coherence and order, the foundation of our existence is often borne out in life’s most basic pursuits; eating, sleeping, and breathing all come immediately to mind. But so too, does running.

You see, for the runner, life’s essence can often be boiled down to the fundamentals. For the runner, our meaning is honest, our focus is clear, and our purpose is obvious. Spend enough time with long-distance runners and you’ll quickly learn this because for us, running, at it’s most foundational level, is every bit as important as eating, sleeping, and breathing. And, in that context, with the rest of life stripped away, there is nothing that bares the spirit more than the simple extraordinary act of putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, in fact many times, it may be all that we need.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

KettleHouse Double Haul IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from KettleHouse Brewing Company in Missoula, Montana. I was first tipped off to this brewery several years ago when a couple of beer-crazed Montanans tracked me down on the eve of Western States at the Squaw Valley Lodge and forced me to try KettleHouse’s amazing Cold Smoke Scotch Ale. Well, that is not this week’s Beer of the Week but KettleHouse’s Double Haul IPA is. This is a wonderfully balanced, fresh-tasting American IPA which deserves attention. Smooth drinking and thoughtfully hopped, it’s a nice new take on the traditional variety.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you have a ‘spiritual trail’ and, if so, what’s it like for you?
  • Is running at all a spiritual experience for you? Can you explain how?

There are 5 comments

  1. Joel

    “But what I do know is that when I am out there–in the mountains, the woods, the desert, and the country–I am at peace.”

    So, this would only happen if you are running? I would think it’s mostly a function of such inspiring environments, not the running. Or at best, nature plus adrenaline.

    I read the initial quote as implying a purposefulness of the world (whatever that might mean) not the individual’s purpose– of covering some desired distance for instance. (I’m not suggesting you interpreted this differently).

    Personally, I just think that for almost everyone there are intrinsic psychological/biological benefits to being in a natural setting whether or not one wants to invoke any concept of spirituality. Everyone can frame that experience in accordance with their own intentions.

  2. Barth

    Yes Andy, at peace. Much is revealed on the long run, don’t you know. No doubt we experience the naturalistic psych/bio elements referred to by Joel. But there is more. You know it and it draws you in. You accumulate these personal empirical evidences of More and darn it we can’t share them. We just invite others out and wait for that “aha” moment. Yep, we are junkies all right. What’s it going to be, the red pill or the blue pill, Neo?

  3. Tim Schlitzer

    Thanks Andy – My wife and I had been struggling with our work so we just are at the end of a three month sabbatical escape running trails every day for past 50+ days! The reset button has been set and so much better than any health care options we would have had should we have stayed home and muscled through our issues. Running is the best health care plan!!!
    Thanks your article was great timing for us to know we are not alone!
    Tim and Jackie

  4. Jay L

    Running is definitely a spiritual activity. When I run it almost becomes a meditative state due to not having much conscious thought. The feeling of your heartbeat and breathing is almost an ongoing state of meditation. Taking away conscious thought, you’re left with That which unites us,. cal lit soul, God, spirit etc. Add to that running with my dog, I find myself truly in the present moment feeling God’s presence.

  5. Dr. Darren R. Bell


    “But what I do know is that when I am out there–in the mountains, the woods, the desert, and the country–I am at peace.”

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