Written by Patrick Dean
photo by Jobie Williams
Deep summer in Tennessee: last night I could read by daylight on the porch until almost 8 pm as the cicadas’ buzzing song rose and fell. The flip side of July’s long hemospheric exposure to the sun, though, is the 75 degrees and high humidity at 7:30 this morning as I hit the trail for a short run.
March’s trail marathon, run in temps just above freezing, seems like a year ago, not a third of that time. Now I have no training plan, no race marked on the calendar.
Today’s run isn’t a training session, or intervals, or fartlek. It’s just about being out here. I stop at my usual turnaround, a dip where a stream runs through a culvert and over mossy boulders down the slope below. Pausing to glance up at the tall thin oaks, maples, and tulip poplars, I feel spontaneous gratitude to be outside, to be healthy, to feel the sun.
Running like this is about more than exercise, more than racing, more than times or results, more than maintaining the human machine. I think of it as soul running.
Soul running is about the experience, in the moment, moving over the ground, through air and through time.
it is how you feel before. Pulling on shorts, shoes, shirt, hat. Walking out the front door or driving to the trailhead. As the sun rises, or at lunch, or in the evening. Alone, in the quiet, or with others, chatting and laughing.
It is how you feel during. Feeling the sweat, the heat, the cold. The smells of the trail: dirt, trees, flower, moss. The smells of the town: concrete, asphalt, cars, restaurants. The sounds of birds, or cars. Running stream water, or police sirens. The feeling of cobwebs on the skin. Woodsmoke. Barbecue.
it is how you feel after. The relief, the pride, the high, the joy. The satisfaction, the relief, the fatigue, the muscle-tightness. The moment when the shoes come off, when the socks are peeled away and draped on the porch rail. The anticipation of the next time.
Anyone can be a soul runner: five-minute milers and those who flirt with cutoff times. Football players and gymnasts. Hedge-fund managers and dirtbags. Artists and accountants. If you can run, or even jog, you can be a soul runner.
Soul running doesn’t care about your shoes, or hydration system, or cross-training philosophy. You don’t even have to have a cross-training philosophy. All you have to do, is go, and run.
Soul running is not incompatible with timed intervals.
It is not incompatible with GPS watches, or Strava.
It is not incompatible with age-group goals, or podium goals.
Instead, it is above, and beyond, those things.
Soul running is why we would run even if there were no apps, no finish line, no medals or tech Ts or belt buckles.
It is why toddlers run as soon as they walk, and sometimes just right before.
it is why centenarians, bent like human bonsai, shuffle teeteringly around a track.
Soul running is running at its purest. We run because we can; because we’re human; because we are animals, who run.
I turned and raced the rising summer heat back to the trailhead, feeling complete. Feeling whole.