Running as Reflection

Finding relief in the daily run.

By on September 20, 2013 | 17 comments

AJWs TaproomI don’t know about the rest of you, but for me, modern life has become increasingly complicated, busy, and chaotic. I know this is not a new phenomenon but between jobs, relationships, kids, and the seemingly explosive growth in informational technology, I barely have time to breathe these days. Pile on top of that the need to take care of myself physically and emotionally and it’s a wonder I haven’t gone completely crazy. Yet, alas, that is where running comes in.

Over the past couple years, as I have left my most competitive running days behind me, I have found a new wave of satisfaction in my running. While I have grown less dependent on mileages and splits, I have become more dependent on the restorative power of my daily run to provide a rare and often fleeting opportunity for reflection. My daily run has become a place where I can truly take a timeout from the daily grind and look within, address challenging personal questions, and seek to find some direction in my life. Running is now much more about my mental state than my physical state.

The late great running writer Dr. George Sheehan wrote often about how his daily run gave him the grounding he needed to live the rest of his life. His famous quip, “The first 30 minutes is for my body and the second 30 minutes is for my soul”, has resonated with generations of runners. In his experience, an hour out on the roads gave Dr. Sheehan the strength and focus to live a life of meaning and purpose in the midst of his full-time job and myriad responsibilities. I would suggest that as life has become more complex and immediate, the need for reflection time is greater than ever.

Certainly, there are those who find those moments in truly contemplative practices; yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, and etc. are all great ways to take a few moments away to find that center. But for me, I must admit, nothing beats running as reflection.

For example, just yesterday morning I went to my local track before school. The main reason I ended up there was that my 13-year old son Logan was doing his speed work with his cross-country coach and I needed to drop him off. I certainly was not going to jump into the workout with him but I figured I might as well log a few miles, so off I went. It was a typical September morning with the sun rising over Carter’s Mountain and a handful of runners putting in their paces around the track. I gently settled into an eight-minute-per-mile shuffle and turned inward. Seemingly random thoughts flooded my head: plans for the day, my youngest son’s field trip, tomorrow night’s Board Meeting, the ultrarunner of the year voting, our new iPad program at school, and the 2013 Western States 100. Finally, my mind settled in on that last one and I realized that even though I am hopelessly obsessed with that race I had not, in the 12 weeks since the event, truly reflected on that experience in any meaningful, tangible way. Amazingly, this random September Wednesday on the Monticello High School track opened the way for that reflective opportunity and I took it. Five nondescript miles on a boring nondescript track became my best run of the year!

Running takes us to so many places. Expansive mountains, breathtaking deserts, deep forests, and rolling roads. It opens up the world to us in so many ways and allows us to connect to the natural world in ways that are often difficult to articulate. But, perhaps more importantly, when we let it, running connects us to an internal world that can be every bit as expansive as the Rocky Mountains and perhaps even more revealing. Running can expose an inner world of reflection allowing us to ask questions we didn’t know needed asking and seeking answers to some of our most challenging internal dilemmas. Even in the midst of an ever-increasingly fast-paced chaotic world, putting one foot in front of the other can provide a reflective place that can truly change our lives.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Stone Brewing  in San Diego, California. Their Levitation Amber Ale is a subtly sweet ale with a rich finish and a warm aftertaste. I had it on tap last week at a local pub and was impressed with how it did not feel heavy like some ambers. If you’re an IPA person looking for a decent amber, this one’s worth a try (like just about everything else from Stone’s).

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Let’s be totally honest here, how much do you think running helps with your mental health? Are you far closer to ‘sane’ because of it?
  • When do you find yourself reflecting inwardly during a run? Is it when you’re running in a beautiful place? Is it related to how you feel? Is it more randomly?
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.