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Some Thoughts on Why We Run

Running Rambles has reached a milestone –– fifty blogs later, we’re still thinking about all things running and celebrating our love of the sport. In honor of this occasion, I decided to tackle the question that runners always seem to come back to: “Why do we run?”

Well, like some people’s Facebook relationship statuses, “It’s complicated.” Ironically, this very simple activity –– putting one foot in front of the other at a faster-than-walking pace –– means many things to many people. We often run for deeply personal reasons. Those can vary from the straightforward (wanting that extra slice of guilt-free pie) to the profound (managing one’s fear of aging). Most of us don’t have a ready answer when we’re asked why we run and maybe we are drawn to the sport because it resists easy explanations. I’ll suggest, however, that a little reflection on ­­­­the question of why we run can significantly deepen our commitment to and enjoyment of the sport.

In thinking about my own answer to the question, I always seem to return to Bill Rodger’s response: “It suits my personality.” More than that, I have a strong evangelical streak about the sport because I’ve been transformed by a habitual running practice that is as close as I get to religion. Running reveals me for what I am at any given moment, propelling myself by my own power through the world until my body feels authentic fatigue. In a society that insists on the increased artificial mediation of our relationship with nature (think cars, driving, office cubicles, and air conditioning) it is both reassuring and life-affirming to push out of that “comfort zone” and into a more organic relationship with the world around me. In fact, I’d argue that there is an essential interaction with the natural world that only takes place while we are running. According to the biologist and ultra marathoner Bernd Heinrich, when we run “[w]e are reasserting our kinship with ancient man.”

Of course, people run because they enjoy the health benefits and it would be easy to conclude that we’re collectively engaged in a futile effort to outrun death. Actually, though, I think it’s precisely the other way around. We don’t fear dying; we fear not living. Our lives are stuffed with activities that eat away our brief time on Earth and leave us with limited opportunities for true encounters with our self. Running removes distractions. Carving out moments to push our physical and mental limits helps to keep us in tune with our humanity. It enlarges our spirit, if we make the room to listen, and prepares us to more deeply connect with others.

Finally, many of us use our running as a way to serve others. One excellent opportunity to put our miles to good use in the community is Fleet Feet’s upcoming Fourth Annual 24 Hour Fight Against Hunger to support the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. Between 3 pm on November 18 and 3 pm on November 19, you can make sure that your running is helping others by joining or creating a fundraising team and completing one-mile laps. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to help people while reminding yourself why you run. Here’s some additional information: (http://www.fleetfeetalbany.com/pages/24-hour-fight-against-hunger)

What drives you to go out and run? Please tell us all about it in the comments.


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