Another employee at my office who’s also a runner emailed me an article from a publication called Science of Mind. It was titled “Running into Life” and rambled on at great, rapturous length about the joys of running. The author liberally laced his writing with phrases like “vibrant life,” “accessibility to nature and her rhythms,” “reconnecting with our body-minds,” and my favorite: “a race that turned into a spiritual experience and revealed a platform for living gracefully.”
Lighten up already-it’s only running.
I have long considered myself as a dedicated runner, but in 30 years of running I don’t recall that I’ve ever had a religious experience or any deep philosophical visions out there. Most often, running is somewhat uncomfortable, particularly if I’m working hard. But there is a difference between discomfort and pain, and it seems to me that running, by definition, is not our normal means of moving from place to place. Walking is. Running requires more effort-and that’s what contributes to physical fitness and the competitive nature of trying to be a little bit faster. And once you’re in condition, the ability to run for several miles while yakking with other runners is certainly not painful, but maybe a little uncomfortable. And you usually feel better when you stop running.
Most of my running friends know I have been dealing with knee problems for a few years (but I’m still running and still doing some shorter races). I recently had a routine medical test, and was hooked up to the blood pressure cuff and the little finger-clamp pulse monitor waiting for the procedure to begin. The nurse walked by, looked at the monitor, and said, “You must be a runner.” How did she know?
“It’s because your pulse hasn’t been above 50 the whole time you’ve been there,” she said. That made me feel good, and validated another good reason why I run.
But back to mental health. It’s a well known fact that physical exercise helps relieve stress, and physical fitness probably helps us recover faster from illness or injury. If you’re stressed at work, a daily run can help calm things down, and I’ve found that on a long run by myself, I’ve been able to mentally sort through problems or projects, often thinking of priorities or solutions that might have been more difficult in the office with ringing phones and other interruptions.
But that deeper psychological, spiritual mumbo-jumbo is like a flashback to the early ’80s when there were lots of articles in the running magazines about “the zen of running” and “the runner’s high.” I hadn’t seen stuff like that for years, at least until the above mentioned email arrived. Instead of inspiration, it provided me with a little amusement. And that’s okay, too.
Run for fun, run for competition, run for fitness. Just don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s only running.
Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.