by JT Lehman
Long before there were running shoes, before hydration packs or trail races, humans were using their legs and lungs to cover vast distances. Running is part of our DNA, a concept covered extensively in Chris McDougal’s book “Born to Run” which chronicles the exploits of the Tarahumara, an indigenous people from Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Years after reading the book, I often find myself trying to channel a single aspect of the mindset the Tarahumara employ with such great success. The visceral joy of running.
photo by Larissa Fransen
In the following passage, McDougal describes two Tarahumara runners leaving the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 60 of the Leadville 100, a hundred-mile trail high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
“…as Ken watched Juan and Martimano exit the firehouse, he was struck by something else: when they hit the dirt ramp, they hit it laughing…like kids playing in a leaf pile.”
Experiencing the joy of running 60 miles into a hundred-miler initially struck me as strange. Long distance races are supposed to be a challenge, a test of grit and perseverance, an exercise in pain. It’s true that there’s great beauty in the growth that comes from pushing boundaries, but pain and struggle isn’t the whole story.
Running is a hobby we’ve chosen because we find joy in it, or once did. It’s easy to forget that when we’re grinding out a training plan in the lead up to a big race, or when running becomes such an ingrained part of our lives we lose sight of why we fell in love with it. Recapturing that initial joy takes attention and effort. It’s something we’ll fail at and forget, and have to recommit to over and over again. Here are some practices that can help.
Slow down & Ditch the Script. Running more slowly is a simple way to recapture the joy of movement. When running starts to feel like work and you’re struggling to make it through, remember those laughing runners dancing through the fire station. Let fun be your guide and slow down until you find it, even if that means walking. Who cares? That’s right. Nobody. Stop your watch. Give it some time, you might find yourself jogging again. I’ve consistently found that a few minutes at a slower pace does wonders for my attitude, and I usually find myself naturally and comfortably returning to my normal pace.
Of course you’re never going to slow down if slowing down means losing your identity as a fast and capable runner. But slowing down doesn’t inherently mean anything. You get to decide what slowing down means to you, and you don’t have to give it any meaning at all. If you’re not feeling great and you’re having a sluggish day, try to look at how you’re feeling with compassion. Ok, so you can usually run this hill and today you can’t. That’s ok. Walk it. Whatever happens in the future will come soon enough, today enjoy the stroll.
Embrace gratitude. Appreciating what You’re able to do and what you have is a powerful antidote to the misery that comes from constantly wanting more. Shifting your focus to the abilities you already have, and the experience you’re lucky enough to be having right now changes the game. Your legs are stiff and you want to be faster but look at that sunrise, my god. What about the fact that you get to be outside this morning? Or that you can skip the elevator because your legs can carry you up the stairs?
Run with friends. Sharing a run with positive people is a great way to lighten the mood and get out of your head. Pick a friend or two who share your motivations and ask them on a run date. Find a group run in your area that fits the vibe you’re going for, or consider starting one of your own. Pick a day of the week (or month) and a time and commit to it. Chances are good that there are others who’d love to join once you make the first move.
Enjoy the process. Each run is a chance to be present with breath, body, and the beautiful places that we get to run. This is easy to forget when we’re lost in the fog of the day-to-day, minds swirling with that 50k two weeks out, a nagging boss, and that salmon recipe we’re cooking for dinner. There are always 1,000 things to think about, yet paradoxically it’s time spent being present, time observing and not thinking, that helps the most. Instead of being lost in thought, try being a curious observer of your experience. Look at the trees, the creek, the grass, or the sky. Come into your body and out of your head. Give yourself to the experience.
Pay attention. If you’re reading this, it’s likely your consciousness is clear and bright and you have the ability to pay attention. That means you have the ability to choose what to pay attention to. Many things are objectively true. Your body might hurt. The alarm felt way too early this morning. You’re often stuck running alone when you would prefer to have a friend at your side. All true. But being able to choose what you pay attention to means you can choose to pay attention to the things that make you miserable, or the things that liberate you from your suffering.
You choose to pay attention to the things that make you miserable, or get lost in abstract thought and miss the beauty of the present moment, you will be unhappy. If you choose to engage in the present and really pay attention to what is, misery dissipates as simple, clear things consume your attention. If you feel your breath, see the tiny drops of rain clinging to the leaves in a wild unruly forest that borders your city, you can be free.
Photo by Steven Mortinson
Running and life are full of hardships that beat us down or allow us to learn and grow. How we frame these projects and what we pay attention to makes all the difference. We all fail to do this most of the time, of course, and that’s ok. Just knowing there’s another option available gives us the freedom to choose another way. It allows us to slow down, ditch the script, embrace gratitude, enjoy the process, pay attention, and connect to the joy that already fills our lives.
JT is building a project to empower and connect people through outdoor experiences. Learn more at alpenflo.com