Running can be the glue that holds life together

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Running is much like life. Sometimes you are not sure exactly where it?s going to take you. Sometimes it feels great. Other times it hurts really badly. Sometimes a run is frustrating, and occasionally it?s satisfying beyond belief.

Reasons for running differ with each person. Some people run to lose weight, some to tone their body, others to train for races and some to relieve stress. By taking a close look at our thoughts as we run, we can tell what in our lives needs to be tweaked or what is working just fine, whether it is physical, mental or spiritual. By getting outside and working your body, the act of running can touch upon all three of these aspects.

The physical part is obvious: Muscles are toned, endurance increases, the cardiovascular system is strengthened, and calories are burned.

The mental and spiritual parts are not so apparent to everybody. Few non-runners will observe a runner and think of mental or spiritual growth, but running is a perfect time to expand completely the extent of your spiritual mindfulness.

When I run, I usually allow my mind to wander for the first half-hour or so. I get into a repetitive stride and allow my mind to drift. After a while, I notice that my mind starts to calm down. I let my thoughts go into a blissful quiet where my brain focuses not only on the views around me but also what?s inside.

It seems like I have a thousand new ideas every time I run. Some are life-changing, like deciding to break up with a selfish boyfriend or move to a different city or write a novel. Some are small, yet strangely important, such as figuring out a better way to organize my clothes or arrange my files. It?s amazing how answers magically pop into my head if I just let myself listen.

Once I get into my groove and have worked out any pressing issues, I practice a type of meditation. Instead of focusing on what hurts or how much farther I have to go, I say a mantra to myself consisting of reflections with special meaning only to me: ?Be productive and organized. Exercise. Learn. Read. Write. Be patient. Have fun!? I say this to myself over and over as I run.

It took me a few long miles and some soul-searching to figure out my mantra, but now I have it down, and it sounds like a singsong rhyme to me as I plod along. Once I have had enough of that, I make up silly songs or somber poems in my head. Often, I simply look around and appreciate the scenery and feel thankful that I have the ability to see and to run. I feel happy that I?m living life and that I appreciate it enough to know that I?m lucky.

Some runners visualize themselves getting a promotion at work, sprinting to the end of a race or finishing their first marathon. Some repeat their goal for a PR in their mind, with the hopes that this self-fulfilling prophecy will be realized the next time they race. Hey, whatever works.

Running is much like life.

It takes a while to figure it out. We are not born knowing what it takes to be comfortable in life; it?s a process that can be learned only through living.

Running is uncomfortable at first because it?s unfamiliar. As time goes on and runners run, they learn. They start to realize the importance of staying hydrated, when and how much to eat before or during a run, the appropriate distance to go, the best time of day, what outfit to wear in what weather and whether they prefer running solo or with a partner. They discover weaknesses and strengths, limits and obstacles. Slowly and consistently, satisfaction with the way they are running starts to improve, as does time and distance.

With practice, a feeling of comfort as a runner and an athlete starts to emerge, because body, mind and soul are working together toward that goal.

Running is much like life.

Sometimes something totally unexpected happens to slow you down. It could be a pleasant surprise, such as spotting a fawn in the woods or stopping to chat with an old pal you haven?t seen in years. Sometimes the stop isn?t so good, when you ?hit the wall? or your knee suddenly twists into an awkward position.

If running doesn?t feel good, a smart runner will stop, knowing that a worse injury may be incurred if aggravated. Taking a break and allowing healing to happen is acceptable. By embracing what allows you to feel completely comfortable, goals that once seemed out of reach will soon become easily attainable.

Sometimes you are not sure exactly where a running path will lead. Sometimes a hilly and challenging trail is ahead; other times a smooth and easy path beckons. If the road ahead is trusted, it usually works out just fine, as long as you expect some surprises along the way.

Anne Kymalainen is a freelance writer specializing in outdoor recreation. She can be reached at annewrites@earthlink.net.

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