The race did not go as I'd hoped, due to GI issues and a bugger of a side stitch that kept recurring, but I am so glad I went. I'd been reading Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn and thinking a lot about my running, and running in general. On the flight home last night, I was reflecting on the weekend and when I picked up the book again and began to read, I found this passage:
Perhaps it is to fulfill this primal urge that runners and joggers get up
every morning and pound the streets in the cities all over the world.
To feel the stirring of something primeval deep down in the pits of our bellies.
To feel "a little bit wild." Running is not exactly fun. Running hurts.
It takes effort. Ask any runner why he runs, and he will probably look at you
with a wry smile and say, "I don't know." But something keeps us going.
We may obsess about our PBs and mileage count, but these things alone
are not enough to get us out running. We could find easier ways to chart and
measure things. We could become accountants. No, the times and charts are
merely carrots we dangle in front of our rational mind, our over analytical brain,
to give it a reason to come along for the ride. What really drives us is something
else, this need to feel human, to reach below the multitude of layers of roles and
responsibilities that society has placed on us, down below the company name tags,
and even the father, husband, son labels, to the pure, raw human being underneath.
At such moments, our rational mind becomes redundant. We move from thought
to feeling. Except our mind doesn't just stop. Many runners say that they become
aware of their thoughts when they run. All day our thoughts churn away,
turning us this way and that, but this doesn't bother us in the slightest.
Yet the minute we start moving away from its carefully constructed world of reason,
into the wild heart of existence, our mind panics. Our thoughts try to pull us back,
to slow us down. But like the marathon monks of Mount Hiei in Japan,
who complete one thousand ultra marathons in one thousand days in
search of enlightenment, if we push on, we begin to feel a vague,
tingling sense of who, or what, we really are. It's a powerful feeling, strong enough
to have us coming back for more, again and again.
I witnessed the raw, stripped down human spirit this weekend. I was stripped raw somewhere around mile 11, feeling all sorts of things yet nothing specific enough to understand. I was ill, physically, and wounded emotionally - and after the race, I learned that others had similar (and worse) experiences, as well.
Yet after we'd all showered and reconvened for lunch, we moved ahead and joked and laughed and planned our next adventures.
Running is different things to different people. I'm not sure I've yet discovered what running actually is for me - but I know that it is in me, and I am better for it.