One of the earliest running lessons that I learned was that to improve as a runner, and to enjoy my running more, I had to make the activity of running a regular part of my daily life. I had been given the advice that once my training became an integral part of my daily schedule that it would no longer seem unnatural or somehow feel like an inconvenience. When I put that advice into practice, I found that there was a great deal of truth in it. I think it was at around that time that I began to consider myself as a runner rather than as a person who ran.
I came to understand that running would be more enjoyable and sustainable if it was an element of my daily ritual rather than something additional to it, or something that I had to get done once my other commitments were looked after. There’s obviously some little magic in regularity – some hard-to-define quality that only becomes apparent in repetition. It was only later, when I started to read more about Zen training, that I came to understand that adopting a simple but repetitive daily routine is often considered to be beneficial in many other less obvious ways.
The benefits of building a relatively simple, predictable, repetitive training programme are difficult to articulate but can be clearly felt. For many years I had described my daily run as a meditation without really having a clear understanding why. It was only later that I came to learn that formal meditation practice and the repetitive action of a training run can quite often have a lot in common. Zen practitioners will often engage in ‘walking meditation’ as a counterbalance to the more usual sitting meditation. I’ve tried both types of Zen meditation and they quite often feel very similar to a relaxed training run. Allowing yourself to rest into the defined space provided by the regularity of your steps and the regularity of your breathing can be a very relaxing and pleasant experience. Personally speaking this works best when I try to remain aware of each individual step and each individual breath – to remain in the moment – each moment – step by step.
I think if you look for it, and want to find it, there is indeed something spiritual behind the ritual of running.