Running & Healing


Running & Healing

by Patrick Reed

Oh, where to start! When I ran down the list of chapter headings from George Sheehan’s Running & Being just now and landed upon… “Chapter 11: Healing,” I was happily surprised. I have learned a lot about healing over the years. And not only from running. I’m sure you have, too. Healing is the reward of a life lived at the edges. Of a life of action. Perhaps bodily healing is physical wisdom or discipline understood by the body. The beauty of looking at healing, generally, but through the lens of distance running, is that in running we have an experience which we have lived out intentionally and about which we can reflect fairly objectively.

“We heal from brokenness and without brokenness we are left unhealed…”

Here’s what I mean: when I initially brainstorm on “healing,” I think of my achilles injury and the long road back to healthy, pain-free running. But then I am awash in other connotations of “healing” — spiritual, healing from addiction, and then healing in the sense of any brokenness – maybe relationally, for example.

We heal from brokenness and without brokenness we are left unhealed. (??) Can that be?!

I am reminded of a quote from Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run — it is by Ernest Hemingway: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” [By the way, a quick plug for Eat and Run — this is an awesome book packed with insights, wisdom, stories of known and lesser known running heroes, chock full of recipes, dietary principles, biographical gems about Jurek himself, training tips and a whole lot more. The book is great. Get it!] Okay, back to this post… “Some are stronger at the broken places…” says Hemingway. And he succinctly sums up life. Who are those “some” and how do I become one, I ask? We are each broken by life — whether by a malicious blow from a detractor, a clumsy tackle on the soccer field, a best friend’s betrayal or a silly miscalculation. And as runners, we have each been defeated, pulled a muscle, or tripped down an embankment — and ended up, at any rate, in a worse and unintended place. (If running hasn’t yet broken you, fasten your seatbelt!) So how do we come out of the inevitable fall stronger?

We know that the broken bone heals most heartily at the break site. We know that the once-defeated, but wise runner repairs the tactical deficiency. And we have observed that the runner we want to be is no longer broken.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~Ernest Hemingway

Let’s break this problem down a bit — into the physical and the spiritual, to simplify the options. First, I take the spiritual — any non-physical severing of the way things ought to be by an outside force or mover. When the father leaves for the office and never returns to his wife and children, this is spiritual brokenness, for example. And a brothers’ quarrel which severs the blood ties – at least for a time – fits the bill as well.

Then there is the physical — which relates directly and most obviously to our running exploits. Here, too, the culprits are evident: ripped tendons and defeats, to name two. (As this post does not permit such verbosity, I will stick to the physical for the remainder of this entry, realizing all too well that nearly everything pertinent to running carries over into the spiritual problems, as well.) I want to make several observations, and we’ll leave it at that:

First, the training effect depends upon healing. We must day by day break ourselves down willfully, so that we may experience the reward of over-reaching which is adaptation. And we become stronger. So, in the daily training method, we find one answer to Hemingway’s adage.

Second, we are all broken in a larger way than just by the daily grind. We each will encounter “the great trauma” – and likely multiple times. This is a part of what it means to be human. For our lives are limited and our minds, spirits and bodies are delicate. We will be broken.

Third, a key reason I run is because I know that I will be broken, and I want to learn early to be able to stand in the trial to come.

“I run because I know that I will be broken, and I want to learn early to be able to stand in the trial to come.”

Fourth, distance running provides a way to be strong at the broken places. I will finish with this point: In distance running, we learn to adapt to pain and to feed off of it and to make it our own. We do not shirk from the pain. Rather, we run to the pain. Into the pain. We see that life is lived most originally and honestly right up against the agony of existence itself. And so we launch with near-abandon into brokenness. But it is a brokenness “in the laboratory,” to an extent. Ours is a controlled experiment. At least it begins that way… But any who has raced the marathon — rather, any who has raced any distance — knows that the experiment quickly gets out of hand. The closer we lean towards the finish, the more urgent become our cries for help, for salvation. As we struggle through the impossible pain at the end of the race, our heart-cries echo more fiercely…

Miraculously, though, when we finally charge through the tape, suddenly the world turns on its head! Agony turns to glory!!

(I wanted to add in aimlessness and hopelessness, too, near the end of the race — but those who run with winning in their heart know nothing of these existential crutches.) Instead, she who runs to win willfully carries wholeness unto the breaking point knowing … knowing!! … the end. The end is healing and wholeness.


And so, like all of the ploys of the religious and religions, running strives to expose truth. And if the training has been honest and full of integrity, the single-focused athlete has learned to be strong at the broken places.

Run to win.

~Coach Reed

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