Running as a form of exercise continues to grow in popularity. As an avid runner, I have found a number of ways running connects me to the things that matter in life. Here are a few examples.
Running connects us to nature. Whenever we want, we can play hooky from life and go explore our environment. We run on the beach, up a mountain, or in a park; we run around a lake, in the woods, or around our neighborhood. We run in the wild and share the land with other animals.
Running connects us to people. When I’m in a crowded coffee shop or restaurant, where all the surrounding conversations blend together, I always hear when someone talks about running. The word “run” stands out for me. My ear always catches the word on someone’s tongue, and I start talking to people I never would have talked to otherwise. We run with friends who share their stories, who confide in us, who tell us jokes, who introduce us to other people to do business with, make friends with, or even to marry. No matter how different people are from one another, the common interest of running connects us. Through running, we understand each other and come to know what it means to compete. In other runners, we see ourselves.
Running connects us to our bodies. The human experience is physical. Every single thing we do, every single day is attached to our physical being. To live life fully, we must fully live on a physical level. Every step we run, we are aware of the physicality of our motions, from the strong contractions of our quads to the rubbing of our pinky toe against the tiny hole in our sock. Things that we are not aware of the rest of the day, we become hyper-aware of when we run.
That’s why I deeply believe that running is for everyone—because it is the best expression of our physicality. Research shows that people experience sport activities substantially more positively than the rest of everyday life. Perhaps that’s because, through running, we fulfill our destiny as physical beings, and on the foundation of a fitter physical being, we can build a better life.
Running connects us to our effort. There is a direct relationship between how hard we try and how fast our feet move across the ground. We push the pace, and we feel the effort we’re making. We can choose to challenge ourselves on any given day, at any given moment during our runs. We can polarize and play with our training by making our slow runs slower, our fast runs faster, our long runs longer. Running enables us to push ourselves past limits we thought we had.
Running connects us to our souls. When we run, we feel like we are living the life we are supposed to live and carrying out what Aristotle called the “actus primus,” the first actuality, of our bodies. Running takes us beyond Aristotle and transcends our flesh and our physical efforts, connecting us to the immortal part of ourselves that science and its neuroimaging techniques have been unable to touch.
There are so many different types of runs, so many places we can do them, and so many things we can experience from them. Running is the purest of all sports—there is no equipment, no special clothing, and nothing to encumber you. It’s just you and the open road. And you can run wherever you want.
What other physical activity can you do wherever you go in the world? I have run past cows on rural roads in State College, Pennsylvania, around the Opera House in Sydney, along the hot, humid beaches in Tel Aviv, with icicles formed on my face mask from my breath in Calgary, through pollution and the smell of spices in Bangkok and Jakarta, gasping for breath on the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, and darting through traffic in Times Square in New York.
I even once stashed my luggage in an airport locker and ran around Orlando Airport during a layover, coming as close as one could be to the runways without being part of the flight crew. Running is the best way to explore the world. I find running all over the world to be fluid with life and the constant journey that feeds our souls with desire and passion. With all these different, entertaining experiences, who needs the Kardashians?
Each place we run offers different insights from which to discover new lines of thinking, to discover ourselves. Each run is its own reward. We become our runs. We become the landscape of our runs. We become the thoughts and insights and experiences we have on our runs. Run to find new adventure and be changed by the experiences and sights you encounter.
Jason R. Karp, Ph.D., is the author of numerous books about running including his newest, The Inner Runner: Running to a More Successful, Creative, and Confident You. For more information, visit www.run-fit.com.