My trail, my church

  • This was printed in October of 2013 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 21st installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Running is obviously good for the body (it improves muscle tone and cardiovascular health) just as it is good for the mind (a Cambridge University study found that running sparks neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells.)

What I’ve discovered in recent weeks is that my favorite hobby is also good for the soul and the spirit.

Running on my familiar trail gives me the same feeling that I get when I go to church. Sometimes I get the feeling at the third mile, the eleventh, the sixteenth… when it happens, I feel something else taking over. I feel calm, at peace, and unburdened. My legs are still moving, my arms are still pumping, the air is flowing in and out of my lungs, but it all feels effortless and serene, an almost out­-of­-body experience. I feel happy, sometimes giddy.

I called it, as many runners do, the “runner’s high,” and attributed it to endorphins. But I’m beginning to wonder, is that you, God?

Running the Santa Rosa Marathon alongside others who were doing the same was similar to worshiping — I was watching other runners in their most vulnerable moments.

It’s humbling to see a runner “in the zone” putting one foot smoothly in front of the other although I knew they must be experiencing pain, thirst, and exhaustion like I was. It’s just as humbling to see a runner noticeably battling a cramp, a side stitch, or stomach problems and still pushing on toward the finish line.

I get that same feeling when I glance around at others worshiping in church, eyes closed, hands outstretched as if trying to touch God — humbled.

I often think, hope, and wish for things to happen while I run. “Please let me make it to the next water station,” I think. “Please let this mile end quickly; I’m so tired.” “I wish my calves weren’t so tight.” “I hope I finish my run before it gets too hot.”

This whole time I thought I was talking to myself, saying things in my head just for the heck of it.

But can’t those hopes and wishes be called prayers? Have I been talking to God?

Someone (you know who you are) told me to talk to God when I run. That seems reasonable, natural even. The trail is my church. Out in nature, dressed in moisture­wicking attire and lightweight running shoes, I am in my element. It’s my calm time, my quiet time, my time when I can be in my own head — or converse with a running buddy if I so choose — and I feel at ease.

Distance runs, speed workouts, hill repeats…it’s all the same. I feel stress-­free no matter how far or fast I’m running. And, even on a solo run, I never feel alone — and maybe I’m not.

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