In Michael Pollan’s 2006 book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” he explores food from pretty much every angle and lands what I think is the best diet advice ever given (even though the last thing he set out to provide was diet advice): “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Think about it. Amidst the wild swings from no fat to low fat to keto to South Beach, this keeps being true and simple. I love it.
I also love running, so I’ve been thinking about what is the equivalent maxim for this existential activity? While all of us humans seem to have found a rare bit of common ground in the fact that we all need to eat food to live, we seem not to have been able to attain that clarity when it comes to the necessity of moving our bodies – whether, how and why to do so.
I believe that moving on land on our feet (or wheels, or crutches) – that’s my definition of running - is as essential to our existence as food. I’m not talking about winning races, going fast, wearing Lycra, or otherwise running as competitive sport. I personally love watching an amazing racer win a hard slog or a fleet sprint, but I’m well aware that in doing so I represent a miniscule fraction of the population and that the racers I’m watching represent an even more miniscule fraction. The real, shared value of running is in the simple movement of the body doing what it learns to do naturally (think of a baby’s first steps), and then adding some intention and awareness to it. That’s it.
Running has basically always been a part of my life. It’s something I do and it’s also fundamental to who I am – not because I’m fast or win races, but because of these reasons:
- It keeps my heart healthy, and also open to the world, to myself, to the emotional ups and downs of life.
- It keeps my mind healthy, and also clear; I have an image of my tangled thoughts unfurling behind me as a I run. I finish most runs in a better headspace than when I started.
- I often really, really don’t want to run, but I always am really, really glad I have run. There’s got to be some value in that, right?
- I know our roads and trails intimately: I know where the hermit thrush sings on the Blueberry Lake trails in the spring, I know that it’s absolutely possible to have a headwind both ways on the Common Road, I know that the hill by the Carpenter Farm will always keep me honest, I know that running on Route 100 is always to be avoided, I know that stick and mud season become a lot more bearable when you can run through them.
- I run because then I can say yes when my daughter asks me to do some crazy adventure with her.
- I run because I know that sometimes when I’m feeling tired or lazy I can stop and walk and it’s totally fine. I’m still moving my body on this earth and that’s a good thing.
- I run because I want to keep running and walking and exploring when I’m 100.
No special skill or equipment required for any of the above. I wear cotton T-shirts, old running sneakers and often find myself lacking sufficient warm or cool clothing. The point isn’t getting it right or being fast, and it’s certainly not about looking good while doing it (when it’s 11 below and the frost highlights the hair on your face, it’s not the best look). It’s about doing it and then doing it again.
And what’s really cool is that even though I do a lot of this alone or with the few friends and family members who share this passion (I love y’all), I also do it as part of an amazing community that is always out there. The second you take your first step, you are part of this community, you are a runner. The running community, wonderfully, doesn’t care about who is faster or sleeker or winning-er. It cares about you and all of us doing this fundamental thing together. Just like sharing a good meal.
Our own Mad Marathon is coming soon. It’s a time when the running community comes together to celebrate the joy of running together in this place. Some people (that miniscule fraction) who come are really fast and that’s cool. But that’s not why the community comes together. This community comes together to challenge ourselves a bit, to be with others in the outdoors doing something we love -- something we all can love and something we all need as much as we need food.
So back to my maxim. How’s this? “Move your body. Try every day. Mostly outside” Hope to see you out there!
Williams lives in Waitsfield.