Saturday, March 26, 2011

The zen of running.

I read this article today by one of the Ragnar Relay cofounders.  I've thought about it all day, and I wanted to share my version and experience of the "runner's high."

I hated to run for the first 20 years of my life.  I remember a friend of mine decided to be on the track team in 9th grade.  This girl and I had competed our whole lives with each other, whether it be for grades or friends or gymnastics tricks or pages read in a night.  She started talking about how well she was doing at track, and naturally I decided to try and keep up with her.

I survived exactly one track practice.

After that, I maybe ran a total of 4 or 5 times until I was in my mid-twenties.  I once lost a toenail running in some hiking boots while I was at school.  I bought some 5-pound Pro-wings from the Payless and tried to kill myself running around my high school track.  I even suffered through an entire semester of the degree-requisite Fitness for Life class my college required for my associates degree, all without ever once loving to run. 

It wasn't until I moved to Salt Lake for my last year at the University of Utah that I started to like running.  I lived one block east of Liberty Park, which pretty much requires that you start to run (yes, it was in the same pair of Pro-wings I had attempted to run with years ago.  Shane loooooved to make fun of those shoes.)  Then when we got married, Shane and I carved out a little 1.5 mile run around our apartment complex that we did a few times a week.  I started to appreciate running during this time, but I didn't reach what I call "zen" running for a few years.
 For me, zen running is as rare as a windless day in my neighborhood.  It happens once or twice a year, but when it happens, you know it, you recognize it, you feel it in every part of your body.  The first time I reached my zen moment was when Shane and I did a 10 mile run down  Provo Canyon.  We had trained perfectly for the race, logging miles around the neighborhood for months.  My moment came about 6.5 miles into the race.  Suddenly, I wasn't gasping for breath.  Nothing hurt.  In that moment, I ran.  That was my whole purpose in life, to keep running.  I felt contentment with my singular purpose in life.  It was a moment that stretched on and on while the miles fell behind me.

The next time I felt running zen was when Shane and I were training for the marathon we did in 2004.  We were running on the Jordan River Parkway, and were way out on the trail in the wild fields between 7800 South and 9000 South.  The clouds were gathering in front of us and so we turned around to head back to the car.  We were 3 miles from our destination when the rain hit.  It hit us from behind, and the wind seemed to push us along in front of it.  Those last 3 miles flew by as my best friend and I raced the storm, laughing and running and wanting nothing more than to get somewhere warm and dry. 
My last zen moment happened last week during my long run.  That day, I had my lovely neighbor drop me off some miles from my house so I could run home.  I had picked a stretch of road that included a 20-block climb.  I reached my moment just as I crested the hill, about halfway through my run.  I had forgotten my headphones, so I had nothing to entertain me but my thoughts and the sounds around me.  Again, the running became easier.  Again, all thought of anything other than the road in front of me fell away.  I ran.

I wish these moments happened more.  Or, maybe I don't, because if they did, I probably wouldn't appreciate them as much.  It is amazing to me to be able to appreciate the feel of my body pushing itself to other planes.  It is as if the soul is as close to the surface as possible, giving i's peace to both mind and body.  I love it.  I'm addicted to it.   I'm grateful for it, and for a body that allows me to find these moments.  And I'm grateful that these moments have turned a once running-hater to a running-lover.

I no longer run to keep up with anyone other than myself.

Photo courtesy Hector Lazzo.


Lucy said...

Not being a runner, I have never experienced this but Jay swears its real as well. Me, I only feel like I want to stop. But, your descriptions almost make me want to try again:)

Glad you're able to run:)