Running And The Stuff That Really Matters

AJW's TaproomOf the many gifts that running has given me over the past quarter century, I can think of none more significant than the one that allows me to separate the wheat from the chaff, the one that defines who I am in the moment and for the future, and the one that gives me hope that what really matters will ultimately be made clear. I don’t always realize it at the time, but the true blessing of the runner’s life is almost always revealed in the simplest of ways. And, along the way, with that revelation, even those of us who are most broken can be made whole.

I was reminded of this essential truth several times over the past six months as I was making my way back from a major injury and coming to grips with the man I was becoming and the man I was leaving behind. Often during the course of a daily run, whether a simple Wednesday morning eight miler or a Saturday all-day 10-hour slog, I was forced to address some of the daily facts of my life and in so doing my place in the order of things. On a few of the more poignant occasions this spring, I hearkened back to the words of Henry David Thoreau as he rationalized his two-year sojourn at Walden Pond:

“I took to the woods in order to live life deliberately… to front only the essential facts of life. And not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I have often thought of Thoreau and Walden while out in the woods myself. Not so much in the context of fronting the essential facts of life but more as a vehicle through which I can live life deliberately. From my current lens, so much of modern life is lived reactively. So often, in the midst of this 21st century chaos, I find myself asking, “How did I get here? And, now that I am here, what can I do?”

Running, especially long-distance trail running, breaks down the answers to these questions into digestible bites and allows us to focus on what really drives us, what really motivates us, what truly makes us better versions of ourselves.

For me, confronting my own limitations this past year has been truly life changing. Having gone from not knowing if I would ever run again to finishing the Hardrock 100 in a 12-month period can do that to a guy. At once I have felt despair and hope. In the midst of a busy, high-stress life, my return to running gave me a direction I didn’t know I was looking for and allowed me to seek a sense of purpose that I didn’t know I lacked.

Today, 10 months post-op and licking my wounds from a devastatingly hard day at Hardrock, my journey is far from finished. On the contrary, it may be just ramping up. The questions that emerge from my daily battle with fatigue and fear are real and raw. At the same time, the time and space to address those questions is fleeting. And, even if given the time and space, the answers themselves might be diffuse at best and likely just catalysts for more questions.

But that, ultimately, is what will keep me lacing them up and getting out the door day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. If running has taught me one thing over these last 25 years, it is that it has much to teach, as long as I am an open and willing learner. The treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge that comes from that daily constitutional, that daily time that is ours and ours alone, is full of limitless possibility. And out of that possibility I have to believe I can become a better man and maybe, just maybe, the world can become a better place.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Kane Brewing Company Sunday BrunchThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Kane Brewing Company in Ocean, New Jersey. I have been trying to get my hands on their Sunday Brunch American Porter and finally got a bottle of it the other day. At 9.2% it is not for the faint of heart, but it is an outstandingly robust beer with a great taste of cinnamon, maple, and coffee that belies its name. It truly is French toast in a bottle!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What lessons has running taught you?
  • Does running answer for you some of the intangible questions of life?
  • In what ways are you a better person because of our sport?