The Beauty of Running Is Simple

An ode to the beautiful simplicity of running.

By on January 10, 2024 | Comments

Late on a recent evening, I arrived to a crowded hut in the New Zealand backcountry. A fishing net and two rods poked out of my pack and numerous fishing flies were stuck to the top of the brim of my hat. As I sat down and started cooking my dinner, a woman asked something along the lines of, “Is fishing your main thing?” After a brief pause, I replied, “Actually, running’s my main thing.”

When recounting this to Meghan after the adventure, she seemed surprised. Not incorrectly, she noted that I seemed more excited about fly fishing these days and asked, “Which do you think about more? Fishing or running?” To which I responded, “Well, fishing, but that’s because I don’t need to think about running. I just do it. I have every day for more than seven years and, altogether, for more than three decades.”

And that revealed a core reality and, perhaps, the true beauty of running for me these days … I don’t need to think about it, at least not much. It’s just there. I do it. I am a runner. I run. Will I always be a runner? Yeah, probably, even well after the time when I’m able to run.

Heck, I thought along those lines when during my freshman year of college I got a tattoo of a runner on my leg. Running had already been such a meaningful part of my life that I wouldn’t regret it. It was part of my journey. It still is. So why don’t I have to think about it?

Ahuriri River - Blueweed - New Zealand

Blueweed in the Ahuriri River valley of New Zealand. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Running Is Simple

You can make any activity as complicated as you like and so it is with running. Fortunately, in my opinion, running is mostly extremely simple at its core. You. Just. Go. Run.

You can pretty much run in anything, anywhere. Sure, you can point out imprudent exceptions, but, really, it’s nearly an anywhere, anytime activity. You can go run in jeans, in ski bibs, or in a dry suit. I did each of these in 2023.

The same goes for footwear. Running shoes sure are great, but fishing boots, steel-toed boots, and snow boots all shod my feet for runs last year. I’ve run in slippers in the more distant past.

Where can you run? Again, almost anywhere. In 2023, I ran on gorgeous trails around the world, but I also logged multiple runs in airport terminals, in front yards, on highway shoulders, around parking lots, and up and down riverside gravel bars. No gym or court or field or any other special setting is needed. Just some open space and the desire to move.

While I do love a good evening run more than most things, I’ve run at 2:30 a.m. in the snow ahead of travel and snuck in runs in the waning minutes of a day post-travel or even mid-travel. Pouring rain, blizzards, gale-force winds, and blazing heat, all still fine times to run.

Roys Peak - New Zealand

A Christmas morning run up Roys Peak outside Wanaka, New Zealand.

I Just Do It

For more than 31 years, I’ve run nearly every day, aside from a couple significant injuries. Even when I was the sort of runner who mixed in off days here and there, it was still something I planned to do most days.

While that near automatic regularity with running hit a bumpy patch due to overwork starting around 2011, I ended that in late 2016 when I started my run streak to prevent work from stopping me from running. It’s gone on for many weeks, months, and, now, years longer than I’d originally intended, but now running is completely automatic. There’s no thinking about not running. Sure, I may think about when to run, but that’s it.

Upper Dingle Burn - New Zealand

Morning views from Dingle Burn Saddle in New Zealand.

In Sickness and in Health

I also love that I don’t have to think about whether or not running will be there for me. Since my adolescence, it always has been. Running’s been there for me longer than any non-familial relationship. It’s been there for me longer than any job or even any career. It’s been a very rare day that sickness has taken running away from me and the same goes for injury.

Admittedly, I do now often think about injury in the context of running and that challenges things. I regularly deal with Achilles pain. It complicated a mountain run as recently as a few days ago and definitely creates uncertainty and even apprehension with regard to running at times. But if that’s as complicated as running necessarily is for me, I’ll take it!

Mount Christina - New Zealand

Looking out at Mount Christina from McKellar Saddle in New Zealand.

Getting to Choose Complication

Now, all that said, I do love that I get to choose some “complicated” running from time to time.

Honestly, that’s one thing I love about combining running and fishing. Not only do I get to research running routes, but I get to research the waters along the way, the fish they contain, and the best way to catch them. I get to choose that challenge.

The same goes for multiple day adventures, whether that’s a self-supported backcountry adventures or a very long ultramarathon. I get to sort out nutrition and gear and fatigue ahead of time and along the way. Gosh, I loved that when running the 250-mile Ultra Gobi in 2016, and I loved planning for it in 2019, when I couldn’t go at the last minute. Planning and problem solving can be fun activities, when intentionally engaged.

Still, in, say, a Hardrock 100 or Ultra Gobi, the vast majority of the time, it’s all about simply putting one foot in front of the other, about making relentless forward progress … and that’s the beauty of it!

Call for Comments

  • Do you find running simple?
  • What do you like most about the simplicity of running?
Greenstone River - New Zealand

Views from high up on the Greenstone River in New Zealand.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.