Running & Learning

running and learning

Running & Learning

by Patrick Reed

I push forward – as in a marathon itself – through Dr. Sheehan’s headings for his chapters in Running & Being. I am pushing to find my own being in my running, perhaps, and so I go to the ‘doctor’ and emulate his thought processes.

Learning: what do I take away from my daily runs? A lot. I often relate to life – its problems and challenges, and its exultations and inexplicable joys – through my running. Running distills things down. It washes away the grey areas in an argument and clarifies ideas, and it reduces existence to an either/or simplicity and an either/or commitment.

So often today, the mantra is both/and — you can both have your cake and eat it, too. You can eat more and weigh less, run less and race faster, and one of my favorite refrains around the house with two girls: leave later and get there earlier. But we know – a priori – intuitively – we know that we cannot both hold that we are evolved from amoeba and that we have an ultimate destiny beyond the grave. In the humdrum world – when we are not running:) – we can believe all of the lies we are daily told: both life is meaningless and you should pursue your meaning in this one life. But in the world we understand intuitively, we see that life is an either/or proposition. Either GOD exists or He does not. Either there is meaning or there is only meaninglessness. Distance running enables us to sincerely grapple with the supreme question of all: Why is there something rather than nothing?

Yes, we know, deep in our souls, we know that the daily influx of bad philosophy – the multitudes of lies – are just that. Why, otherwise, would we wait around killing time, enduring boredom as the interminable day slogs by. How could we be lost in a sea of ever waiting for the next event, blind all the while to the inescapable truth that life is passing us by??

I have recently been reflecting upon the idea that every man and woman – and child, for that matter – is an ultra-marathoner. Whether we know it consciously or not, we are each invested all-in to this race of life. Though few know it, the 48 year-old who has sudden chest pain and is rushed to the hospital, perhaps never to escape its unrelenting maw, has this long last decade been on the ultra course barely limping from aid station to aid station, depleted of too much to possibly go on. Yet he is oblivious to it. Often, all the while, that same businessman has been warning the ultra-distance runner of the runner’s folly: “You are crazy. Why would you run such distances?! You’ll surely kill yourself.” Yet, the entire while, the blood coursing through the everyman’s veins thickens and thickens as his narrow path through the wooded and icy mountain passes takes the specter of that inevitable 50th ounce of refined glop called diet cola. Daily.

We are all ultra runners. All-in in a race where everything is always at stake. In this one life, invested all-in even if we refuse this truth that the uncertain, nearly infinite path we are on is indeed certainly finite. And that a fall, a venomous snake-bite or a ripped tendon awaits each of us…

So – what do we do? How do we go forward with this revelation? I propose in the following way. We pledge to eek every last bit out of this one life. Every last bit of relationship and love — which must be supreme. We strive to never wait on the day’s rays to shift more quickly, but instead learn to appreciate the grace of each second of each day. We pledge to seize the day!

This takes many forms for the many who inhabit our planet, I know. But I believe the ultra-runner has a clearer look inside than most. As Scott Jurek notes on a few occasions in his great book “Eat and Run,” you are almost guaranteed to reach the state of clairvoyance and so-called ‘nirvana’ when you push through a really long distance run. It is a by-product of the effort — just as it seems to be of any persistent enduring work.

And surely we have learned what to avoid. If, on the one end of the spectrum, surges the distance runner into the captivation of the long run with its promises of bliss, on the other end of the curve is the middle-aged man crunching down processed chips dipped into processed cheese watching mindless trash on the television. The supreme grasp of life on the one hand and the ultimate waste of the ‘one life’ on the other. We know what not to do: to sit and watch is to die already.

Therefore, to get up and do must be a path towards life. I am a Christian, and my Savior had a ministry of action. Going from town to town, telling of the presence of the Kingdom of God — showing every man who would listen with his heart that the Kingdom was indeed, within. Jesus Christ turned every social tenet and legalism on its head, and he ate and drank and spoke truth to the down-hearted and beaten. To the ultra-marathoner.

We distance runners know of the suffering of the homeless. It is our plight on the long, lonely road – out where the finish line becomes some kind of vapor – the object of our faith. The unseen finish line – but fully known and understood and utterly believed in. We distance runners know, too, the plight of the sorrowful. Sadness is our reality when to go on one more step — into the pain — unleashes tears — and sometimes at one and the same time our tears speak an inexpressible joy! We know of the contradiction of man, the need for grace and forgiveness, and we understand compassion. For willfully broken as we become, we open ourselves to a grace undeserved. Our souls become fertile ground because we rid ourselves, one step at a time, of our pride. And the amazing thing — I often wonder at this – is that the spectator who looks in at us from the side of the course is so other, so separated from us as we endure — though we are less than an arm’s length away. As the sick man lay dying and the relatives can touch his hand and speak, yet the chasm between ill and not is unbridgeable and incomprehensible to the healthy, the clean, the spectator. To the one who claims he needs not race for his life. Though all the while he is…

Jesus summed it up well when he said, “Because you say you see, therefore you are blind.”

What have I learned from distance running these past 30 years? I have learned that I am blind.

Keep running and seeing!

~Coach Patrick

image credit: Andreas Sjokvist