Stillness On The Run

AJWs TaproomThere are many aspects of 21st-century life to like. Transportation and communication have made the world smaller, technology provides information and context in the blink of an eye. Opportunities exist in education, entrepreneurship, and business that many of us could not have dreamed of 20 years ago. In many ways, we live in a golden age.

However, in the midst of this remarkable time, there is something disconcerting going on. We are losing our capacity for stillness. We are losing the time and the space to become centered, grounded, and still.

Certain religious groups–Buddhists, Hindus, Quakers–continue to sustain beliefs, principles, and practices that make time for stillness. But, those times are fleeting and increasingly either contrived in ways to make them more convenient or crowded out by the general busy-ness of life. And, beyond these conscious, deliberate practices, few opportunities exist for simple acts of day-to-day stillness–those times when the mind and heart can be settled, still, and replenished.

Running, particularly the daily act of getting out for the simple daily run, is one way that I have been able to find stillness in the midst of a very un-still life. Whether on a beautiful desert trail in Arizona, a rolling fire road in California, a craggy mountain peak in Idaho, or an idyllic doubletrack in my current home in Virginia, all the places I have lived have provided settings for stillness. But, they can also be found in more mundane locales, as well. In fact, as far as I see it, as long as my legs are holding together and I have a pair of shoes with me, I can get out on the road or trail and find that little piece of stillness.

There are times in the trajectory of any runner’s career that the miles become more labored, the motivation wanes, and perhaps the cycle of injury or fatigue creeps in. In those moments, of course, we need to listen, but we also need to heed the call of stillness. For me, were I to ever stop running, that is what I would miss the most. The daily dose of fullness and calm that comes in the midst of a complex, harried, well-lived life.

My old friend and training partner from the Bay Area, 10-time Western States finisher Kevin Sawchuk, and I used to talk a lot about life and living while we pounded the trails in and around Mount Diablo. We were both in the prime of our running careers at the time and joyfully juggling serious jobs, active parenthood, and intense training. We often would reflect on ‘what ifs’ on the run. Particularly, what if we ever had to stop running.

We queried ourselves once and said, “If you could run one last 100 miler with a personal-best time and then never run again OR you could be guaranteed to be able to run three miles a day for the rest of your life and never tun another 100, what would you choose?” For both of us, and I imagine for many reading this column, the answer is easy. We’d take the daily three-mile run. For me, the sustenance, nourishment, and stillness that those daily runs provide me–that essence of the running endeavor would be extremely difficult to give up.

Running 100 miles, while an extraordinary accomplishment that is life changing for many, is also just one experience. Conversely, running daily, month after month, year after year, and finding stillness on the run is not only life changing but life defining. And that, more than anything, gets me out the door.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Cigar City - Dry-Hopped on the High SeasAs I am down in Florida this week, it is fitting that this week’s Beer of the Week comes from my favorite Sunshine State brewery Cigar City Brewing in Tampa. They have a new release I just tried last night called Dry-Hopped on the High Seas that is a unique beer they tout as a “Caribbean Style IPA.” I, for one, had never heard of such a thing but trust me when I tell you, it’s good stuff!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • AJW’s question, if you could only run one more 100 miler in a personal-best time or run three miles every day for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?
  • Do you value the stillness of the daily run, like AJW? What is something you get out of your daily run that the rest of life doesn’t provide you?

There are 4 comments

  1. story321

    Great article, Andy! Stillness is very important to me too. There's a lake that I run around in the San Francisco area. And while there are cars on the road which loops around the lake, the scenery helps tune out the noise of the cars. Once that happens — once I get into the place of quiet time in my head — I hear the sound of wind rustling through the eucalyptus trees, and the song of the white crown sparrows and the black birds. At the end of a long work day, the stillness of the lake helps calm and re-energize me.

  2. ClownRunner

    If I could get sponsorship I would choose the 100 mile PR. Then I could just write about running and keep getting free shoes probably (just to wear around the house reminiscing about the days when I could still run). :)

    There is an old one-room Quaker school here in Hamilton, VA that I pass by on my daily "stillness" runs, on a dirt road loop that also passes by the last remaining farm/silo in the area. The front door is always open so when my son was still in the stroller I used to take him in there to look at the chalkboard, wooden benches, old school books and cobwebs (the room is preserved like that for school groups to make visits). The quiet stillness of the room always calmed him and me in equal measure.

    Now he's out of the stroller and I run the loop alone, and I never go in there anymore. My mind always focuses on finishing the run and getting back to the family. I miss those time of stillness and reflection. But change is life, and I'll seek out new forms of stillness. It's always there, waiting for us.

  3. Andy

    Totally agree, AJW, and I'm sure it rings true for all readers, particularly us nature loving trail runners. You should write a book: Zen and the Art of Running … well, OK, maybe something a bit more original.

    As for the 100 PR vs. 3 miles a day in perpetuity, can't we bargain just a little? Make it 5 and you've got a deal!

    1. ajoneswilkins

      Andy, thanks for the comment. I have played with the idea of a book and have actually been contacted by a couple runner/literary agents who read irunfar. I need to put the time to it but it's something I'd like to work on in the next couple years. Again, thanks for the note,

  4. LGarten

    I usually am always thinking about that next race. That one day. Until an injury creeps in and you can no longer do even an easy run. It is easy to take for granted the simple aspect and enjoyment of getting in any run no matter how small or short.

  5. @ACarollo1

    I believe that I very much enjoyed this article. Your post puts running into a different light than running fast and signing up for races. Running for the enjoyment of stillness and balance; then see what roads your efforts lead you. I Dig it!

  6. vanessaruns

    Well said! 3m/day for me, no doubt. The weather has been so terrible here lately (Landisburg, PA) sometimes all I can manage is a 1-mile slog through knee-deep snow. Although I have somehow managed to shuffle my way to five buckles, distance is always irrelevant–just a few minutes outdoors is all it takes to reset the soul. Looking forward to that book, AJW! :)

  7. 123ms

    I'd take the hundo! You'll always remember it … Share the extra 20 min/day with kiddos with a good attitude and a glass of Cabernet and you get the best of both worlds …. It's like a pro athlete chasing that last Super Bowl win … Good luck with that

  8. JoshuaCGray

    Wow, I think I've just now realized why I seek out trail running. For quiet, stillness, and contemplation. This is what drew me to Eastern Orthodoxy. Thank you for this piece, AJW.

  9. Max

    And now I can quote a written reason for why I do all my serious running alone.
    Also if I never race again, I doubt I'll even have a sad thought about it, and this is coming from a 20-something who can be quoted saying "I'm far from done. Only career I care about now can be measured in peaks and finish banners"

Post Your Thoughts