I used to run with a select group of friends on the weekends, usually when building up my long run mileage in preparation for an upcoming race. They’re all good friends and experienced runners – most of them much better at our favorite sport than I. I’d start the run with them but, at some point, I’d always fall behind. I could have pushed myself harder in an attempt to keep up, but I didn’t often want to, so I’d simply let them go. When they got far enough ahead of me, they’d always circle back or stop and wait, words of encouragement never far from their lips. I’d tell them to just keep going, but they’d hold up anyway, patiently waiting for me to catch up.
When I first fell in love with running, I had just two goals: getting faster and going farther. When I trained for a race, it was to PR and, eventually, qualify for Boston. In this way, running became a math problem: distance divided by time. But I was never very good at math, and no one needs more problems. Over time, however, my outlook has changed. I’m no longer interested in keeping up with anyone. I’m okay with running slow and alone. Speed is no longer my goal… nor is some astronomical distance. My only goal, when I lace up now, is grace.
I run to find my rhythm – that feeling of gliding effortlessly through the air, where my body and my breath work in harmony to propel me forward, almost as though I were flying… and were I to cast my arms outward, I just might take off, right up into the sky!
Runs like that are rare – as rare as a far reaching PR. Like all moments of grace, they tend to arrive unexpectedly, without warning and, when they are over, they leave me feeling elated… wondering if I shall ever feel this good again? Or if it’s even possible?
But these moments have now become my WHY – my whole reason for running in the first place because, when I lace up my shoes, it’s the only way I know how to make that feeling occur again. And so I run, I wait, I breathe, and I hope.
I’ve run long enough to know that going out and pushing myself on every run won’t give me that same experience. In fact, the only thing that brings me closer to grace is listening to myself.
Pushing harder can be enjoyable, and I am proud of the achievements that pushing myself has yielded me in the past – PRs I never thought possible until they were published as “official”, right there, in black and white. These numbers are fun. They used to give me confidence, self-respect and, unfortunately, an unhealthy form of validation. Through the years I have learned that when I push too hard, too fast, or too much, running becomes a grueling and unpleasant labor – a self-inflicted form of punishment disguised as a healthy, physical outlet. And no matter how fast I would run, I couldn’t keep up with my own preconceived ideas about how much faster or stronger I should be. Then the numbers became nothing but bigger indicators of my own personal failure. That kind of running is the opposite of grace. And so I choose to resist it, allowing myself to run almost embarrassingly slow at times in order to practice floating along, actively resisting the urge to push through.
I no longer care what anyone else thinks or chooses to do out there on the roads. Everyone has their own pace to keep and timegoals in mind – goals that will perhaps deliver them to their own state of grace? As for me, I choose to do my own thing – losing myself in this form of moving meditation, constantly in search of an experience that I hope will keep on finding me.