Running is how I re-connect mind and body. Somewhere in our evolution “work” came to mean sitting in front of a computer screen. This dulls the senses and softens the body. Bill Rodgers wrote that running is a form of play – children do it naturally, with exuberance. I feel more alive when I run, connected not only to the person I am, but actively pursuing the person I will become, my best self.
The hardest part is starting. Getting out of bed, lacing up shoes, stepping out the door. The first clunky steps. Before long, muscles are warm and flexible, heart rate slows, breathing settles down, and everything begins to work together. There is a sense of contentment that some ascribe to the release of endorphins. I’m not sure if the euphoria I feel is just chemical, or if it comes from the physical and mental ease I feel at that point. Surely one contributes to the other.
Primal senses come together – work, play, and just being combine with newly ordered thoughts, sorted from the jumble they were before. Problems are smaller, obstacles surmountable, happiness is both anticipated and felt in the moment. My focus is sharper; colors are more vivid. Physical exertion occupies heart, lungs, and muscles – they are distracted so they won’t contribute to other distractions. The mind is partially occupied with coordinating movement, but the intellectual, creative and emotive parts are free to wander.
The last few miles of a long run are revelatory. The body, which has been content for so long, starts to object. Breathing is harder, my heart rate increases and its pounding can be felt in my extremities. Hunger and thirst become urgent sensations. The mind begins to insist on a different activity, and works to distract from the task at hand. This new pain can be exquisite. But late-mile pain brings priceless gain. There aren’t many chances in modern life to come the end of one’s self – to be forced to reach inside and produce effort that seems impossible. The act of tightening the will and commanding performance from a disobedient body brings far-reaching benefits – nothing seems impossible thereafter.