The Head and The Heart

AJWs TaproomLast week, I was invited by the local Rotary Club to give a lunchtime presentation on ultramarathon running and the different ways one can balance a challenging full-time job, a growing family, and long-distance running in an increasingly complex world that places demands on all of us that are at once physically overwhelming and emotionally taxing. It was a fun presentation to prepare and an even more enjoyable one to present.

Toward the end of the question-and-answer session while dessert and coffee were settling in and the main portion of the meeting was over, a bold voice from the back of the room asked, “What do the voices in your head say to the voices in your heart?”

For a moment, I was stumped. Certainly, I knew where he was coming from as I have often faced the daunting challenge of conflicting voices fighting for airtime in the heat of the moment in an ultra. But, most of the time I have been able to shut those voices up by putting my head down and simply getting the job done. To be honest, I had never really thought about what to do with the conflicting voices. But, the guy had a point, what do those voices say to each other?”

I won’t even attempt to answer that question here. However, what I will do is acknowledge the presence of the interminable battle between the Head and the Heart that is so much a part of the runner’s experience. While it is easy to say that we “don’t think about anything” when we run or we simply “block out the pain” the honest truth is, at least those of us who’ve been doing this for awhile, we are always doing battle between the Head and the Heart.

How much should we train? How good do we feel? Is this the time to go for it? What if I blow up? If I eat this now will I regret it later? Why bother?

The questions, quite literally, are endless. And, in fact, it’s not so much a matter of how we answer those questions, rather it’s a matter of how willing we are to ask. Because ultimately, whether we admit it or not, running long distances forces us to come face to face with our own mortality. Running makes us accept our limitations while striving to exceed our boundaries. Running enables us to seek paths going places we didn’t know we needed to go. And, finally, running allows us to be the people we are meant to be in spite of the conflict between the voices in our heads and the voices in our hearts.

And that is why running is truly transcendent. What other daily activity, arrived at so peacefully and purposefully, connects us so seamlessly to the true essence of who we are meant to be?

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Stone Brewing Enjoy by 5-17-13 DIPAThis week’s transcendent Beer of the Week comes from Stone Brewing. I had a couple pints of their “Enjoy By 5/17/13 DIPA” the other night at a local watering hole and I must admit, it was amazing! You have a little more than two weeks to get your hands on this brew. Go for it!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Where do your head and heart most often conflict on a day to day basis?
  • Do your head and heart ever conflict on race day? If so, how?

There are 23 comments

  1. Melissa

    Fantastic post. These lines rang so true to me (trying to think how to work them into desktop/screen saver so I can see them often!):

    Running makes us accept our limitations while striving to exceed our boundaries.

    Running enables us to seek paths going places we didn’t know we needed to go.

    running allows us to be the people we are meant to be in spite of the conflict between the voices in our heads and the voices in our hearts

    Reminds me again how much I love running, how much it has shaped and continues to shape me, and how grateful I am for every step, every run.

    Thank you!

  2. Atticus Grinch

    I am not sure what you do with your beer (maybe it is a post-run chafing solution) but I typically like to get my hands on my beer.

    1. Andrew K.

      The ABV is 9.4%, so perhaps it is suitable as a topical tincture. One can't argue with Andy's wisdom. Next race, I'll be sure to bring a bottle for myself, and one for my shorts.

  3. Michael Gildea

    Thank you for an inspiring article. Now I am ready to run long this weekend and run to the store and pick up some Stone Brewing IPA.

    1. Chris

      4th that. Can't figure out for the life of me how to juggle a demanding job (aren't they all now?), a 20 month old and all the chores of owning a home…I'm considering dropping back to 5 and 10k's…

      1. Sarah

        @Chris-I hear you! One thing that helps me get both some alone time and running time in is run-commuting, I know it isn't realistic for everyone but it can be a good way to get your mileage in without taking time away from the fam!

  4. Tony N.

    Good article, it really made me think. I am training for my first ultra which will be next year. Life has really been a juggling act between running, my job and 10 month old. It's tempting for me to question the amount of time I spend training when I'm being pulled in so many different directions. My head says that there's not enough time in a day. My heart says that the toughest goals are the ones worth pursuing. I'm going with heart on this one, my head can just quiet down and enjoy the ride.

  5. Andrea

    I work full-time and have four kids and a farm/property to maintain. Running long distances keeps me sane and helps me hold it all together. I sure wouldn't mind more articles about people with really busy lives who manage to run and race…'s inspiring to know that other people face these challenges too and still manage to run. :-)

  6. Duane VanderGriend

    Andy, I loved your comments about learning and accepting while trying to break through. It reminds me of why I left hunting to become a runner. As a hunter-and in my twenties I lived to hunt-the increasing privatization of land slowly turned hunting into being more about access than prowess. A once desperately necessary quit skill became a well dressed poser.

    I found in the running community that which my heart looked for in the hunting community. A graceful confident skill that could not be posed. Runners are not posers. You can't fake a pace. And if you beat me to a lovely stretch of trail, the trail is not used up when I get there.

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