Yesterday I wrote about Zen and running and said that I thought there is a kind of endurance common to both that is not goal-oriented. This is the opposite of what most sports psychologists would say we should be doing: “Imagine the achievement and clearly visualise yourself finishing and collecting the medal; comprehensively explore in your mind what it would be like to have that sense of completing such a distance in a record time.” So what did I mean?
In life and in running we have goals. I plan my routes for each run, although I always reserve the possibility that it could be longer or shorter; I plan aspects of my life, so far as I can. And, yes, I do imagine what the run will be like before starting, and getting a mental ‘feel’ for the distance. When I have entered organised races I have visualised the finish and the high at the end when I cross the line. However, life and running are not in the plan, the fantasy, and the imagination, but in the execution, the real-time ordinary moments, and the in-the-midst of it all. That is why I noted that when I set out on a run, once I am out of the door, the end is put to one side, precisely so that I can just run: one step after another, in the moment of the action and the effort. This is the point where Lars and I are in complete agreement, I think. The endurance of running is a habit of everydayness, of the ordinariness of keeping going, of returning to the pace when you falter, walk or pause for breath. At those times the realisation that there are five, ten, fifteen more miles to go can be very draining, and the run seems impossible to accomplish; the fantasised end makes little difference. But being in the moment instead, just doing it, one step, another, another, is entirely possible. That is how running is done, and that is how life is lived.
Running teaches us many things. It teaches us about ourselves and our limits. It teaches us about ordinary endurance as a life habit. We learn that those limits are, often, like the imagined goals, merely passing mental boundaries to be put to one side once we are in the hurly-burly of the actual running. I’m no great athlete. I’m tall, heavy, middle-aged, and prone to injury. But sometimes, just sometimes, when running in the moment I am unstoppable.