The Real Reason I Run…

I do my best to move everyday.  To do something that wakes the meat of the body and makes my heart beat a little faster.  Running is a favorite of mine.  When I go I keep it very simple – I just grab my keys, lace up my shoes and head out the door.  While I am running I do my best to stay present.  That’s it – my entire process in a nutshell.  But even so, during the run there are still many times I find myself completely lost in thought.  When I realize this, I bring myself back to the moment as swiftly as I can; I look up…

…and find that I am flying.

The pavement is being pulled forward somehow; a grey ribbon of tarmac flowing beneath my body under a sky so blue it almost hurts to look at.  I hear the rhythm of my blood pounding in my ears and feel it pulse at the tips of my fingers.  The world offers up every scent imaginable and I feel the soft song of the wind ripple over my sweating skin.  As the heat gradually builds in my core I relax more and more deeply into that simplest of rhythms: one, two, one, two, left, right, tap, tap…  Somewhere within myself I exist in a silver silent space, balanced on the tightrope that is this moment;  I move smoothly as if on a rail yet I am more and more unbound with each second that passes.  There is no exertion here, just a fierce animal joy in the motion of my body.  It is a beautiful thing to move through the world in this way experiencing the freedom of the arrow: first nocked, then released, and finally bent only to the singular aim of it’s own flight.

I have a theory that we are all conduits for a kind of energy that moves through us into the world and is expressed in thought, word, and action.  I think that, as this happens some of it gets hung up on kinks in our psyche, blocks in our own personal pipelines.  And that this waste product builds up over time, an accumulated detritus that collects in our bodies and spirits like sludge on a river – unless we process it in some way.  Now, it’s just a theory, and to be honest it could be total horseshit.  It’s simply my own way of representing what I feel to be true in my own experience.  But, that said, when I run there is an undeniable sense of dross being sloughed away, piecemeal but consistent, in some kind of mysterious process that takes place at the very center of this motion and heat; in the deep down place, the sweat and hollow of it.  The act of running, then, serves as a kind of purification for me.  A self-induced sweat lodge.  A dance in which the black wall which has risen to tower within is burned away in a necessary periodic incineration of my own collecting darkness.

And even if my theory holds no truth whatsoever, I do know this: no matter how hard it seems before I begin; no matter how far the distance, how long the time, how bad the weather or how broken my body, I cannot recall a single run when I did not return feeling better than when I left.  No matter what the conditions of my life at the time, no matter how good or bad things seem in the moment, moving in this way never fails to elevate me: body, mind, and spirit.

That is why I run.

What is it that you do to feel better?  And what do you think of my theory – Do you think I am right, or completely wrong?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (or anything else you feel is appropriate to bring up) in the comments section just below.

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58 Comments

  1. Long time no read you James, it’s nice to feel your words while I read you.
    But, I have to be honest, when I run, I usually get lost in my thoughts, if not, the feeling of pain and tiredness will stop me. In the other hand, you’re right, that feeling at the end of each run, it makes it worth it.

  2. I must admit the more I read your posts, the more i fall in love with your blog. You have a beautiful mind, James.

  3. Love your post. When I am hiking in the woods or snowshoeing I become lost and time no longer exists. There are times when the temperature dips and I have forced myself outside in 9 degrees – never regretting it once outside. Once you become lost in that place where time stops you no longer feel the cold and never want it to end. This also happens when I return home from work ready to take a rest but know that it is my turn to go to the hospital to visit with patients and provide a Therapeutic Touch session. Once I arrive at the first patient’s room I am revived and we venture into a partnership of meditation, relation and energy healing. By the time I leave an hour or two later I am refreshed and ready to engage in writing, exercise, or some other activity once home. Life is quite beautiful once you find that space where you lose yourself. Love and Light!

    1. Thankyou so much.
      I couldn’t agree more – that place where you lose yourself and find yourself is one of the things that truly makes life worth living.
      You seem to live a very worthy life, I commend you for this greatly.
      I wish you well,
      – J

  4. I feel the same way as you when I swim. I try to do 40 laps per day and when I get all of them in, something happens about half way through, like a glider on the water, I don’t feel like I’m swimming anymore and it is exhilerating! Sort of like an out of body experience, my mind is set free, my lungs open up and my limbs are working together in unison (unconsciously) to propel me forward through the water. It is truly, truly a natural high. There are days when I have been able to reach 90 laps and I’m sure it has to do with my body’s own internal force and my ability that day to just let go. Thanks for the awesome post. Working out frees your mind and soul and I wish more people could find their own special place this way. It helps to reduce my stress and gives me a fresh state of mind to move forward in other things. All the best, Kat.

    1. Hey Kat,
      Thanks so much for this. Made me smile.
      I love that you, also, have found your ‘thing’. I have not swum much in my life, but I have to admit that I am intrigued by it. I may well be hitting the pool in future!
      Movement is key, isn’t it? I love that you get this.
      Hope this finds you well, thanks again,
      – J

  5. This is how I feel with a camera in my hand – like the world is coming out to greet me. I am completely present and filled with anticipation that the energy and love in me will find the energy and love in creation. I am consistently touched by your writing – thank you for sharing your energy with your readers.

  6. Hi, and thank you for sharing your thoughts!
    I feel the same way when I’m exercising, whatever it be.
    Like a moving meditation, clearing up the mind.
    We need this. To move our energy.
    Have a wonderful day! 🙂

  7. I agree with your theory wholeheartedly. A few years back I took up spinning every morning as I live in a big city. My daily “virtual” ride would begin at 5:30 am and for that hour a group of ragtag people worked out the kinks as it were. We assembled like silent warriors in the darkness of the early morn to find that perfect nirvana and to essentially “reset” our balance with the world and all its complexities. Living in a busy metropolis I found it absolutely necessary to challenge myself this way not only for the fitness benefits but to rekindle my connection between the physical and the psyche.

    A long the way, life as it often does, I got thrown a curve ball and I ended up with a back injury from lifting too much….long story to short – spinning no longer became an option. Everything came to a halt. I was now suffering from severe sciatica and could no longer keep it all in balance. However, I am a strong believer of the power of mind and body and decided that if I could no longer have that blessed nirvana I would have to change strategies and proceed in another direction. And so, the quest began to find balance yet again. As the psyche struggled with depression and exasperation I began to look inward. And then I realized the salvation I was seeking didn’t have to come from that particular form of exercise it just had to be something that challenged me and let me achieve the connection. And so it goes with life….when your linear path has obstacles you can either choose to move around them – as hard as that may seem – or shut down. I chose the former.

    After 4 years of physio and in-depth learning through my own research and through many others, I discovered a new discipline and turned to yoga. Funny enough, years before I couldn’t fathom doing yoga. I had gone to a few classes and thought it slow, pedantic. One instructor once said “I know you aren’t getting it …I can hear your mind from here!” And I wasn’t even saying anything lol. But then another instructor said….don’t worry….you don’t have to commit…but know that yoga will wait for you.

    Eventually, I discovered my practice and discipline through Bikram Yoga. I hate the humidity so forcing myself to have the discipline to not run from the room and finish the 90 minutes was a struggle but also a much needed challenge. And then one day it happened…..the stillness of the moment found me and the focus of trying to get things right with my body, mind and let’s not forget the spirit. The balance was returning! And believe me when I say the struggle was REAL I really mean it. Trying to sustain myself and reaching for my own kind of perfection I realized that this is what is it all about. Finding the stillness and that supreme moment when body, mind and spirit co-exist almost made me weep. Through this new discipline I could learn to let go of so so much….even the former exercise I absolutely used to live for.

    I guess in short, I feel the balance of who we are and how we approach life can be found through many forms of exercise but one thing I know to be true: we are meant to move! Whether we run, dance, lift weights, or do you yoga, we need this to keep our lives in check, in balance. Finding that perfect moment that feels so cleansing and renewing is vital to our health in so many ways. I am happy your running takes you there! But know this, as we age and as we change we have so many options to maintain that balance. This is our true nirvana. Namaste….indeed. 🙂

    1. I absolutely love this. It is my favourite comment / response about this post. Thankyou from the bottom of my heart.
      I think what you have written here is very wise. It is important not to get hung up on a single way of doing things, but rather to understand the underlying principle and aim, that we may adapt fluidly when our circumstances inevitably change.
      I am glad you have found yoga as the thing that suits you best. It seems the popular option for people who are commenting on this post.
      I hope this finds you well, thanks again, and have a great night,
      Big hug,
      – J

  8. Love your description and analysis. I used to run and now walk and practice yoga. I enjoy similar feelings of letting go as I move my body. I am fortunate that I can walk to and from the yoga studio in about 20 minutes. I am not a believer in the supernatural but appreciate your metaphor, the spirit of connection. Yesterday I arrived at yoga early and our teacher, the owner of the studio, was teaching qi gong. The ending exercise was shaking off excess chi … loved it! In fact, qi gong will be my addition! Keep up your wonderful writing!

    1. Hey there,
      Thankyou so much, both for reading, and also for taking huge time to leave this comment – it is appreciated.
      Good luck with the qi gong, hope it works out for you.
      Have a good one,
      – J

  9. I don’t run, but I can appreciate the image. Even in the end, when you do feel better, it’s still often pushing through that last mile or the last five minutes of something that moves you to that place. it’s some good stuff!

    1. It is indeed 😉
      There is something beautiful and nourishing in breaking thru the barriers that exist inside oneself.
      Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment – I really appreciate it.
      Have a good one,
      – J

  10. “A dance in which the black wall which has risen to tower within is burned away in a necessary periodic incineration of my own collecting darkness.”

    OK – that is a great quote! You’ve captured the essence of mindful running in a poignant way. I especially resonate with this imagery because of my new project that is all about moving from darkness to light. Your words here lend even more insight to the themes I’m exploring – thanks friend! So if you can believe it, one of my songs is an instrumental inspired by long distance running. The irony is not lost on me that I have not been able to run for the last year because of an injury; that how I process the darkness was taken away when I was doing a project exploring the move from darkness to light. This blog post brings that into sharp focus, but I can see how the project itself kept the energy moving even so. It didn’t feel as beautiful and free as you describe and as I have felt when running… sometimes it was hell to be in pain and have to answer to the art… yet darkness was burned away and something beautiful came out of it.

    BTW – have you ever heard the term “blow the carbon out”? When cars had carburetors, it was often recommended to take them out for a long, high-speed drive to “blow out the carbon” from build-up on the valves and pistons. (Debated if it worked for cars, but does for my soul).

    1. I love this term. Love it. If I’d have known it before I wrote the post I may well have included it.
      Your new project sounds beautiful. I think there are many ways to process to ‘blow out the carbon’ so to speak, running is just one I’ve found that is particularly effective for me.
      I loved this comment. Thanks so much for taking the time to read, and respond – I truly appreciate it.
      All the best,
      – J

  11. How nice to read your beautiful words again – I always feel this way on long walks through the forest or ambles on the seawall and yes, it does feels like flying or as if energy/spirit is helping us along! I also come out of my yoga class feeling like this, exulting in the burning away of all that does not serve me and my senses alive for the new…

    1. How nice to have them read, and to receive comments as lovely as this one 😉
      I feel the same thing with yoga also, it is a beautiful discipline indeed.
      All the best to you, hope your day is going well, and thanks for writing to me,
      – J

  12. I agree wholeheartedly! Running not only challenges my body to perform the best that it can, but also never fails to boost me up and clear my mind. No matter my mood before I set out I’m always positive by the time I return. Running days are my brightest days. It’s my saving grace and I love it.

  13. My dear body is getting a few glitches so I’m not able to run anymore. These days I swim – usually between 1 and 1.5 kms about twice a week. Halfway through the laps I begin to feel like I’m in a rhythm, body and mind all in the one place, just like when I meditate. I feel the water slide over and around me, the splash and silence as I move my head in and out of the water, much like you see the road as it moves beneath you. Exercise is the best way to get rid of dross that you store up in the body, which I believe we do. What fascinates me is that exercise and meditation can do the same thing – one movement and one stillness. So thanks for your post. You say it so much better than I do :-).

    1. I couldn’t agree more.
      I find meditation and physical exercise to be complimentary practices in my life, and you are right, it is endlessly fascinating.
      Thankyou very much for your kind words, I wish you well,
      Have a great night,
      – J

  14. James, as always your posts are beautiful, and yes, I agree about the dross – I clear mine with yoga & walking – all melts away as I am in the moment. I do love your ep as well, bought it just after release day – well done you 🙂

  15. absolutely love this post. That idea of dross being swept away is right on the money. Personally, I’m the sort of person whose mind is constantly fizzing. When I run, it quiets and I’m just left with tap tap tap and the sky.

  16. Reblogged this and commented:
    James Radcliffe has a theory about what is often referred to as the runner’s high: “that this waste product builds up over time, an accumulated detritus that collects in our bodies and spirits like sludge on a river – unless we process it in some way.”
    I think this is insightful poetic imagery and exactly how I feel even from power walking. Thank you, James, for translating this euphoria into words. Your theory makes perfect sense to me.
    P.S. I think you should submit this to a fitness magazine as it is more motivational than articles about the physical benefits of exercise. It is so much more than that.

  17. I know that feeling your talking about I can remember it when I used to run many years ago. I’ve also gotten it while going on a good long walk where the heart rate goes up a little less but still helps move that sludge on out.
    In a reading this morning I read a term by Ernest Holmes that expressed how that feeling comes to me, it’s like a “fire caught from heaven,” burning away all the junk that stands in the way, leaving behind renewed clarity.
    Have a wonderful week JAMES!

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