There 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.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
As 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?