What drives people to run, especially early on a Sunday morning? On the way to my son’s chess competition last Sunday, in the space of about one-mile I saw several different types of runners. First of all I noticed two men on the verge who, I’m guessing had been running, but had slowed almost to a walk and were chatting as they moved along. Next we passed a slightly over weight bloke who seemed to be struggling, sweat pouring off him, and showing a distinct dislike or distress of running. Then further along was a super fit chap, fully toned, fully engaged, calm and running with ease. As we rounded the corner, we were met with more runners: an older rounded gentleman wearing a Meningitis Trust T-shirt; a middle aged woman who was wearing all the correct running attire and a look of determination; two younger ladies on the opposite side of the road who were both looked as if they were having a good old chin wag as they bounced along and finally a lady putting on a heck of a pace as if she were in a race.
By the looks on all of their faces, the clothes they were wearing and the way they were running I started to wonder whether I could make an educated guess as to why they were all out pounding the pavement at this hour. The original guys looked like part of a training group, maybe out to get fit for a football team. The old man in the T-shirt was perhaps in training to raise money for his chosen charity – as reflected on his T-shirt. The middle aged woman maybe for health. The speed runner could have been in training for a competition and the two younger women, well they could have been running to tone up for the summer, but possibly more importantly, just out for the social aspect and to ‘run for fun’. Of them all, the one who stood out the most was the fittest guy, not just because of his toned body (!), but there was something else about him. His whole body looked like he was enjoying it. His head was lifted, his posture was upright and there was a spring in his step. But there was even more than that. His attitude positively shined through and his aura was literally glowing. He was definitely in the zone.
Getting in the zone is well known to top athletes - that point where mind and body merge with seemingly no effort and the body’s endorphins kick in and provide a natural high. For some, this ‘high’ can become additive resulting in the need of a daily fix. For others it’s almost as if running reaches a form of spiritual practice, resulting in feelings akin to a good meditation, even ecstasy. Roger Banister had direct experience of this when breaking the four-minute mile:
“No longer conscious of my movement, I discovered a new unity with nature. I had found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never dreamed existed”.(Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way)
For Roger D. Joslin, this form of experience is no stranger. As he demonstrates in his book, Running The Spiritual Path, running can literally be a way to prayer and God. Yet, every form of physical exertion, from walking to dancing can bring about the same results. Moving spiritual practices bound from the walking meditation of monks, through to the whirling dervish and African trance dancers, even the sexual practices of Tantric Yogis and Occultists!
“When you are physically stimulated - be it sports, exercise, martial arts, dance, or other forms of fitness - pathways to your inner emotional self, as well as to the deep centers of creativity and thought become opened. In this state of mind and body you are more receptive to personal change; you are more willing to accept what you now see as truth, where beforehand, you may have become somewhat defensive and guarded.”
(Jerry Lynch and Chungliang Al Huang)
I wonder where the fit guy goes when he’s in his zone and why? What was his reason to run this morning?