I used to be sort of fast. It was all about time and distance, which I thought was important. All of my running was focused on improving my speed and endurance. I came to feel invincible, powerful; like I could control things. Eventually it all started to unravel. I was approaching burnout. I fought it, denied it, was frightened by it. But I could not overcome it. I didn’t feel invincible, or powerful. I started to feel out of control. I was afraid that without the how far and how fast construct of running, I would lose running all together. Inevitably it happened. I moved into that place of “once a runner”.
This process has brought me to a much different place in my running as well as my other athletic endeavors. You see I didn’t “lose running”, I just moved to a place where being physically active in my environment came to mean so much more. I still run, though slowly and I get really excited with a 10 or 12-mile trail run that goes well. As I have slowed down my awareness of the environment and my aliveness in the world has increased. When I was in that “how far and how fast” stage I would occasionally glimpse another level, another sense of being. I always associated this sense with the fact that I was running extremely well or experiencing a “runners high”, where the lack of fuel to your brain alters your perceptions and reality. Most times this explanation was probably fairly accurate, but I’ve come to realize another truth that I was not able to recognize with my narrowly focused perspective.
What I understand more clearly now is that for me, being physically active in a direct way with my natural environment can bring an awareness, a completeness, a sense of awe and mysticism that feeds my spirituality and connection to a greater whole. It doesn’t happen all of the time and I can’t force this to happen. But I can allow it, embrace it, look forward to it. It comes with running and cross-country skiing- the sports I am most passionate about and the ones that put me in direct contact with the elements.
My skiers have helped me explain this phenomenon with their obsession for Prospect cookies. When my team prepares to leave the lodge to ski, the cook Kent will always ask me when I think we will be back in the lodge. He asks so that when we return there will be trays of freshly baked cookies on the counter. When we get back the kids crowd around the cookies and carefully choose just the right one for themselves. There is a mystique to these cookies and if you just say “Prospect cookies” to any of my skiers at any time of the year they will be immediately transported to memories of magical delight. Now you need to understand that these cookies are just frozen balls of Sysco cookie dough. The urban legend is that the magic of the cookies is because the oven in which they have been baked hasn’t been cleaned in 35 years. A more accurate explanation is that there is something about the interaction of exercise and cold that heightens ones perceptions and awareness, that allows one to experience sensations with more intensity. I’ll stick with the legend as far as the cookies go but I’ll remain aware of the more accurate explanation for my transformation to “once a runner”.
Jen has spent a number of years practicing the disciplines of yoga and meditation to nurture her spirituality and wellness. She is much better at looking inward to achieve this stillness than I am. I tend to look outward as I naturally look to the mountains and woods. I can understand in my soul how other cultures have places that are holy and sacred; that are a physical presence of and connection to their faith. When I’m skiing in at the end of the day on Boomerang and I see the fading light behind that far ridge and feel the cold snow beneath my skis, I am in a place of wellness and connectedness that nurtures my spirit and in the stillness I hear the whisper of God.