Why I Run

At one time or another, most running publications address the question, “why we run.” In 2017, it will be RaceCenter’s inquiry. In this first issue of the year, I share my personal reasons for running. In future issues, I hope to explore the many reasons why those of us who live the Pacific Northwest also run.

So, we begin today with what moves me. Why do I run? Beginning this exercise of reflection, I find myself in high school having just been cut from the freshman football team. Wait, did I say cut? I meant my mother was taken aside after the first week of practice, and it was kindly suggested I take up another sport. I hadn’t quite hit five feet in height, nor 100 pounds upon entering high school. I choose to believe, therefore, that the coaches were concerned for my safety. Rather than pursuing my dreams of becoming the next Walter Payton, I went out for cross country. We were a misfit crowd – none of us were popular, all of us were fairly skinny, and we were required to wear the far-too-short dolphin shorts. Freshman and JV squads ran 2 miles, while varsity runners ran a distance of 3 miles. In my four years on the team, I never ran the 3-mile course. I’m not sure I’m going to discover the answer to “why I run” in these high school memories, so let’s go back further.

My next running memory is jogging around a track in middle school trying to achieve a decent mile time for the Presidential Physical Fitness Awards. Wait, did I say track? More accurately, they were laps around the school parking lot that had been measured, perhaps accurately, but definitely not the USATF-certified 400-meters. It was miserable. I recall my friends, Dan and Sean, were quick around those laps giving one another the motivation to keep up a “high standards” pace. I didn’t run fast but rather drudged around the lopsided make-shift track which had a slight uphill start and finish.

I also recall the pre-teen years in which I ran around the neighborhood playing cowboys and Indians with my friends, and occasionally my brother, Chris, when we weren’t fighting. I was always a cowboy, with the horse on a stick, blue chaps and six-shooter cap gun pinned to my side. Chris was the Indian, who would have happily scalped me if given the chance. These are my fond memories of play, which hold weight in answering the question of, “Why?”

It seems my memories from the teenage years reveal I actually disliked running. Pre-teen was all play, but no formalized habit of running. If the reason I run cannot be found in my past, perhaps it lies in the present. Below I explore through a fragmented free-thought process, of why I run — today.

I like the woods, so I only run on trails. I like the feeling of swerving between trees and flowing downhill over the rocks and roots on the path before me. I enjoy exploring new places, and am grateful my legs can take me there. I run to escape an extroverted world. I like the quiet. I am an introvert. I need seclusion and solitude to reset. Admittedly, I may get a bit too much solitude, but running in the woods on my own never seems lonely. I experience a deep connection with nature when on the trails. I run solitarily through the woods to know I am not alone.

I am kept alive by movement. When I am immobile, I risk all that I am. Even my sanity. — Dr. George Sheehan

When I am stagnant I am slowly dying, when I am moving I am most alive. Running in open spaces allows me to explore within myself. I gain clarity within these spaces. I do much of my productive thinking on long trail runs. I solve problems and am always the optimist. My thoughts trend upward during my runs in the mountains, and they trend downward if I sit stagnant for too long ruminating on things. The woods, nature, is the real world for me. While I’m not a hunter, nor could I live in the forest for days on end, being in the wild grounds me. It nourishes my soul.

I run to let go and make room for new things. I run to clear my mind. I run to remember why I’m here and what I’m capable of. I run to be contemplative. It is my meditation. I like the sense of accomplishment after a run. I like pushing my physical limits. I like suffering. I run to feel emotions. I run to discover who I am. I run to remember who I am.

The thoughts that do escape while running have a better perspective on things. Perhaps they are influenced by the endorphins that move through me. Perhaps my mind knows the trees and mountains hold no judgement. Perhaps my spirit running free impacts the direction of my mental pathway. The science, or spirituality of the why doesn’t matter. What matters is recognizing I can influence my thoughts, control the direction my day takes, and pursue productive creativity through a physical and active connection with nature.

I run to experience solitude, which leads to connection with nature and self, and ultimately brings a clarity to my existence. Solitude, clarity, and connection are the building blocks of my mental wellness, and the answer to the why I run.

Why do you run? Have your reasons changed as your running progresses, and new goals and milestones beckon? Perhaps you’ve lost sight of your “why” in our distraction-filled world? Whether you’ve already pondered this question and have concrete reasons for putting in the miles, or you seek a “why” in order to begin (or begin again) running, I want to hear your answers. Reach out via email or social media (tag your Instagram photos #whyirunpnw) and tell me why you run. Your reasons will be  inspiration for future columns.