I have been a runner for over thirty years. It was high school cross country that started it for me. I was not an elite runner. I rarely made the junior-varsity squad with my fellow mates. I rarely came in the top 5 of the open squad. It made no difference. I uncovered a passion unknown to me at the time and one that I have not since been able to shake, even though there have been times I have retired the shoes.
I wonder how many miles I’ve logged since I started running all those decades ago.
I do remember the trails. There wasn’t much variety in high school. It was either the trail system or the local roads and the trail system was the default. It was beautiful. Cross Country season was from August to November. We would log mile after mile running through forested trails of falling leaves blazing bright red, orange, and yellow. The crisp air felt good on the skin and lungs as we pushed through the higher miles. Competing in the runs was in itself an experience. Our team would arrive in the early dawn, set up the pop-up tent and start the pre-meet warmup…along with the thirty other teams of 20 young men and women that came together to race that day. Whereas there was a group ready to win their medals and gain personal records with aspirations to make State, the rest of us enjoyed the comradery of being around other runners. That’s not to say I didn’t try to improve my skill at running and break a few personal records of my own. I did. But I also enjoyed the run.
And so I have. I do not travel anywhere without bringing my running gear. During the collegiate years, as I traveled through Europe and the United States, I was the guy trudging through the train station, airport and bus station with a pair of running shoes tied to my backpack. I remember those awkward looks and smirks as I ran I those European cities and States where running was less than common or less popular. I couldn’t shake the urge. Whenever I would see a wooded trail, a hilly road out in the middle of presumably ‘nowhere’ I saw a road to be run. Miles to be logged. The same remains true today. Although the traveling is not as robust as years past there is no road that can’t be explored or new place to drive to in order to experience a new run. Now the run is less about the location and more about the result.
It’s not just the vistas of far-away places.
Lacing up and hitting the road is prayer and therapy wrapped up in one. While chasing down the pavement on long easy runs the mind spends the warm-up chasing down the thoughts of the day and any of the superficial preoccupations of daily life. As the miles add up the top layer of life’s problems are scraped away and time begins to plumb the depth of philosophical and theological matters — the weightier issues of life.
I have found running as a way to clear the mind to maneuver through those issues in life that are mostly untapped because of the daily routine. When prayer eludes even the busiest of days the run can serve as the venue for contemplative prayer. A conversation where I bring to the Lord the issues of the day, the unresolved quandaries where only His direction can suffice. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of time running that I have found peace and consolation dwell. When the run winds down and I am on the mat for the post run stretch. A near quiet rests in the soul. I ran it all out.
Even better is running in Florida. Unlike my experiences in the Midwest, Northwest and Northeast, running was never as much fun between December to May as it is in Florida although I prefer to run in the muggier months of June through October. Suffice it to say running year round in the Sunshine State is unbelievably awesome. You can run practically anytime. Admittedly if you spend time in south Florida running the winter months is easier because temperatures rarely dip below 70 degrees and the humidity sticks around ( no pun intended). Central Florida and northward is a different story. It does get colder and not improbable that nights and early morning runs will be met with slightly chillier temperatures so gloves, winter cap, and long sleeve top are in order. As such the opportunity to find meditative moments to wrestle with life’s bigger questions along the many miles of winding road, suburban enclaves, sandy shores is near limitless.
Occasionally this pilgrimage calls for a different pair of shoes; ones that can cushion the soles while exploring new sights and new depths of the world and the soul.