Running for Pleasure

You can spend a good deal of time reading about a variety of issues related to running and runners and exercise these days. You can find tips on how to get started, how to stretch, how to avoid injury, how to get faster, how to eat, how to drink, how much sleep you need, even which songs to listen to on your iPod. You can also find all the things that running will do for you: help you lose weight, help you sleep better, improve your sex life, improve your mental sharpness, etc., etc., etc. But a word that you may see less often is “pleasure.”

If you run, I hope that at least every so often you have one of those workouts, one of those days, one of those moments when everything in your body falls into a rhythm. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it happens from the beginning. Sometimes, as was the case for me this morning, it comes as a surprise. You begin by shuffling along, easy does it. And slowly your body settles in. You pick up the pace, but instead of your breathing starting to struggle as you go faster, it stays steady, smooth. Instead of your stride feeling pressed or beginning to go ragged, it feels lighter and stronger even as your speed increases. Every part of your body feels loose, connected, at ease.

I run because of days like this. Don’t get me wrong; I could stand to lose 40 or 50 pounds, and at age 50, I need all the help with my health I can get, especially trying to keep up with a 3-year-old boy. But what gets me running and what keeps me running is the love of it. It’s one reason that I get so bothered by those who run only for exercise, those who describe running as boring or tedious. For me, even during the difficult runs, on the not-so-easy days, I feel a connection to what I’m doing. My running is not so much an activity as a relationship–sometimes smooth, sometimes rocky, sometimes easy or challenging, but ultimately helping to express and define who I am.

For others, that relationship may be to something else: swimming, cooking, writing, cycling, making art, creating music, taking photographs. But whatever it may be, I think we all need something that we do not because it sounds like a good idea but because it satisfies a yearning and reflects a part of our identity. Running does that for me. What does that for you? And do you spend some time to give yourself over to it?

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