When I started running a few years ago, I had a few goals in mind. First, I wanted to be able to run a 5k. Never in my life was I able to do a 5k run without taking regular breaks and being out of breath. Second, I wanted to be able to run a half marathon. Never would I imagine adding 10 more miles would be a good idea nor something someone would pursue as a challenge. Third, I wanted to be able to run a marathon. This to me is a once in a lifetime type of thing. In other words, I only want to do it once in my lifetime.
As I started my running journey, I was slow but consistent. I’d run half a mile…then a mile…then a mile and a half…then two miles…and so on. I would ache throughout my body after each run. I could see and feel the shaping of my body taking place starting from the baseline of an overweight orangutang.
Each new week brought more confidence. Faster mile times, longer runs, less fat, more muscle. While there continued to be physical benefits that I could talk about for days, what I found to be the biggest benefit of running would be perspective.
Every run gave me opportunity to think about thinking. That thinking about thinking turned into just thinking. That thinking would turn into a bias for action. As I would ponder my thoughts, I would find a sense of interconnectedness from a previous disconnection. When I’d question why certain thoughts would come up over and over again, I’d see a circular pattern rather than a linear one. As I noticed boundaries holding my thinking back, I’d destroy the silos and new ideas would emerge. Soon enough, the patterns are shown right in front of my eyes. I’d come to this realization that these thoughts are not going to leave me anytime soon until I actually acted upon them.
One such idea I had when I first started running was to become a writer. I’ve always loved the act of writing. Sitting in front of a keyboard, putting on some post-grunge music, and writing to my heart’s content. But for much of my life, I never did it, yet it haunted my mind.
My running goals would shift overnight once I realized this. The piece to the puzzle that was missing was finally found, and I found a holistic picture as to why I was running. I was running for perspective. It no longer mattered if I ran that marathon. While I could force it and would be successful in doing so, the running I do is to expand my perspective.
As this perspective became more clear, I became more aware of the non-obvious reasons why I was running. I was running away from many of life’s problems. I was a bit overweight. I had a constant burden of work stress. I needed a break from my family responsibilities from time to time.
I was metaphorically running away from these problems. Through the process, I’d lose the weight and no longer have the problem of being overweight. The burden of work stress would have me going through a game plan for the workday ahead to kick-ass and take names when I’d sign on. The breaks from my family would have me ideating ways to be a fun dad when I’d return.
New problems in my life would appear. One such problem was what should I write my next book on? Each run gave me perspective. Why did I first start running? Because I was overweight, stressed out, and not feeling like I was the best dad I could be at the time. Each subsequent run had me thinking about the reasons behind this.
I was overweight because I preferred to consume food and content. I was super stressed because I felt like I was constantly distracted at work by everyone and everything. I was not a great dad because I was too busy trying to solve my life’s problems than building a new life with my little ones.
This shifted my awareness completely. What other things in my life are this non-obvious that I’ve only been operating on the obvious side of the fence? I knew that eating healthy foods was good for you, but it was really hard to get into the habit. I knew that working at a big corporation was busy, but didn’t see the exponential forces at play asking for my daily undivided attention. I knew that being a good father takes effort, but it meant that I had to be present in the everyday moments.
The shift of seeing the obvious and being able to uncover the beginning of the non-obvious happened through running. The perspectives I’d chip away at with one of my runs would uncover meaning that took me months, if not years in my previous life to realize. It felt like it took almost 30 years on this rock to come to terms with what seems to be common sense. That regular movement and getting the heart rate elevated for an extended period of time significantly helps you think.
But I never thought of it this way. I always tried to stay in shape, but my preference of workouts always had me lifting weights shifting from one sedentary activity to a slightly extended one. Don’t get me wrong, weight-lifting has its place in realizing our potential as human beings, but you tend to shut off your mind to focus on doing one thing — lifting heavy things.
Running was my gateway drug to walking. Usually it is vice-versa as many get started by walking before they run just like how babies start to crawl before they walk. This revelation had me finding all ways to incorporate in my life the act of moving somewhere outside with nature. I’d take my kids on daily walks and be present with them by answering every question they have about life. My four year old asks “why” certain things are the way they are. Have you ever took a minute to really think about why sap comes out of trees or why the lizards are always climbing those trees and licking the sap?
My routines would now be centered around my movements. Exercise in the morning tended to have my brain firing on all cylinders and I’d use that creative energy to write a few hundred words each day towards a book. The afternoon walks would give me an opportunity to check in with myself and see if the day is going how I planned and how I could re-adjust with that newly created energy and ideas coming from it.
The movement begets more movement. I’d then learn about practices like Yoga or sports like Basketball that I’ve always been curious about how I’d fare in practicing them. Sure enough, the movement had me moving to find a way to get involved in both of them. I’d find local basketball leagues and pick-up games to start to get familiar with the sport and eventually become a regular.
On the yoga front, I’d buy myself a mat so that I can practice the art of centering oneself. If moving on my feet could produce such immaculate results, what could yoga do for my entire body? Sure enough, I’d find myself more calm. Less anxiety and more acceptance. Little rumination and more proactivity. I no longer cared to judge myself for being a man who tried new things.
This half-human, half-orangutan found no interest in the world caring about whether I would look like a fool trying new things that helped me become a better version of myself. The only thing I truly care about is meeting my moral obligations. I get closer to doing that everyday by finding new ways to give me perspective. Instead of running from life’s problems, run to find perspective.