Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 09 Dec 2006 06:11:29 -0500

Why Running Still Matters


(rerun from December 2001 RW, but written shortly after the events of that September 11th)

The day when everything changed began the same as all days did for me. I woke up early, but kept the radio and television quiet for the first hour. I didn't know that the world as we'd known it was crumbling in that same hour.

The morning's silence, and its peace, ended just before I went out to run. I listened, stunned, to the bulletins on the car radio. Each report sounded worse than the one before.

In the following days I heard from many runners. They were about equally split between those who ran anyway but felt guilty about it and those who couldn't bring themselves to run because it seemed suddenly unimportant, even disrespectful.

My day's run was slow to start. But I never thought about not starting it and never felt this act trivialized the tragedy.

Running still mattered, and now more than ever. To head out anyway on a day like this wasn't heartless or selfish; just the opposite.

I wasn't going out to play, but to worry and to mourn. This run opened my heart to thoughts about the pain of others.

No one could run away from a problem this immense. At most a hard, mind-numbing effort could act as a brief escape from horrible, non-stop news that threatened to overwhelm us.

Running serves better by letting us run WITH a problem instead of getting away from it. A run can turn down the volume and slow the pace of events -- away from the radio, TV, computer, car, job -- and can let us stare the problem in the face.

Such runs can be wrenching, as tears and fears rise up with nothing to deflect them. This is a necessary part of healing, since letting ourselves feel our worst helps us start to feel better.

We could do the same by going for a walk or bike ride, or just sitting in a quiet room. But running is where we're likely to go in the bad times because this is a friend we know so well.

Some tragedies are national, which we all must endure together. More often these are the personal blows that strike each of us, and we must work through them on our own.

My first huge loss was my father, who died suddenly and much too soon (at a much younger age than mine now). That loss hit me so hard that I couldn't write a word about it, or anything else, for a long time.

Yet in those darkest of days I never missed a run. He was a former runner himself and a great lifelong fan of the sport, but I didn't use the comforting line, "He would have wanted me to keep running."

That would have been a minor truth. The bigger reason I kept running was because I needed it, and then more than ever.

Running when you're hurting inside is important. It can't solve the world's problems, nor can it make your own disappear. That isn't the purpose of a crisis-run.

What the running on those days does is let you step away from ground zero, look inside yourself, and sort through your thoughts and emotions before coming back to wrestle with the new realities. That's why running still matters -- more than ever.
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