Running the road is hard. I feel it in my body more today after this weekend’s 13.1 miles of pavement than I did the 31 miles of trail three weeks ago. Both runs pushed me and I pushed back, running faster than I imagined I would, probing a physicality that feels simultaneously familiar and alien.
Why do we do it? Run miles and miles, using precious waking hours. There are so many reasons, so many ways to understand this most human of activities. People think we are running away from something, running away from our responsibilities or traumas. In reality, we are running towards something. We take our flawed and wounded bodies out there on the trail or open road, we bring our burdens with us, and one by one, we drop them. The miles require it, the mountains demand it, the rain washes them away, the sun burns them up. Run far enough and there is nothing else to think about except how you are going to take the next step. If you want to know what I am talking about, spend some time at the back of the pack at mile 22 on a marathon course. When you get strong enough (or dumb enough) that you can drag your worries along all the way to the end of your run, you choose a longer distance trying to find the place where there the only thing left is you.
As spiritual as this practice is for many people, running brings me out of my head and into my body in a way that nothing else in my life does. In a world where so many forces conspire to pull us out of our bodies, existing exclusively in the head space of screens and media and artificially constructed ideals, we need something to keep our minds and spirits rooted in our cells, we are physical beings after all. For many of us, our work no longer fills that need, and rushing from one thing to the next in an unrelenting daily scramble creates exhaustion without meaningful physical exertion. So we run to remember what we are evolved to do- move our bodies through space and time, breathing deeply, breathing hard.
Not only are we pulled out of our bodies by cerebral and technological delights. One in three of us women will experience physical or sexually assault over the course of our lives, and if my Facebook feed can be used as evidence, virtually every woman I know has experienced sexual harassment or worse. These experiences can push us out of our bodies for self protection, distancing our selves from this thing (our flesh) that becomes a liability. Can it be any wonder then that we gravitate towards activities like running or dancing that pull us back in with joy or pain or both? Mind, body and spirit long for union, even when we do our best to ignore it.
I run to feel all of my cells in action and to reclaim possession of this lump of flesh my mind and spirit get to animate during my time here in the world. This body is the only territory that is truly my own. Like any people who have tried to defend their territory, there have been violations. Me too. But it is hard to deny this body is my own when I take it out for a long run. Mind body and spirit, the longed for union gets closer the further I go.