A few years ago, three wake-up calls got my attention. My brother died of cancer, and I was reminded of how important it is to honor and care for our bodies. Not long after that, an acquaintance announced on Facebook that he had walked a mile on his treadmill, in just over an hour—quite a feat considering he was paralyzed with lupus. Then I discovered that a friend in his 70s, who moved like a man half his age, was running four full marathons a year.
These experiences taught me that I wasn’t doing enough to respect my body. I knew it was time to make some changes. I’d admired runners from a distance, but I was afraid to ask my body to pay in sweat. Deep down, I had the ability to run, and I knew it would be great adventure for me, so why wasn’t I doing it?
After thinking about all this for many months, one winter morning, I pulled on an old pair of gray sweatpants, laced up my athletic shoes, and forced myself into the biting January air. I only ran about a mile that day—by sheer force of will. But it felt good afterward and I wanted to do it again.
Running has become part of the natural rhythm of my life. I ran two half marathons this year, besting my time each race. I’ve shed 20 pounds and kept them off for several years. I’ve picked up a lot of obvious health benefits from running and I’ve also gained some not-so-obvious spiritual benefits. Here are five things I’ve learned from running that have helped me go deeper spiritually.
1. Running Helps Me Believe in Myself
Why not have faith in yourself? I’m not talking about being arrogant or self-centered, but holding a straight-out belief that you can expect better things out of yourself. I’ve been dancing with a dodgy disease for over a decade, so when I first got started, running a competitive race seemed only remotely possible. But I’ve run 11 races since I started running again. I’m staring that disease down every day, challenging it with faith in myself and in the resilience of my body. And it’s working.
2. Running Helps Me Believe in Something Bigger Than Myself
Left to its own devices, your body will always want the shortcut. Unchecked it will lunge at corner-store junk food, fling itself on the couch, watch mindless television for hours, glut on weekend-long video games, or plead for something worse. But you are more than your body. There is something infinite inside of you that longs to express itself. Turn off the greed gland and you’ll be able to reach for something higher.
3. Running Heals Me
After a few weeks of getting on my feet and peeling the mattress off my back, my body chemistry changed. My body longed to get out and run and started reminding me to do that often. It liked my lower blood pressure, the lost pounds, and the regular endorphin high. And when I really listened to it, my body steered me toward real food, not the imitation stuff. I’ve started to heal and it feels good.
4. Running Amps Up My Meditation
Lots of runners like to listen to music when they run, but I rarely do. I’ve found my thinking is more clear when I’m running than at any other time, and I’m more open to new ways of looking at the world. I listen to my body and to my inner self. I sort through problems and discover solutions. Almost without fail, I come back home with a feeling of peace and a better sense of balance and well-being.
5. Running Inspires Me to Worship
I’ve gotten in the habit of offering a lot of thanks when I’m running. As I take in the beauty of the world and the miracle of the human body, I can’t hold back the sincere, overwhelming sense of gratitude I have for God’s gifts. Running time is a time I feel connected my Higher Power. With new spring in my feet, I feel a oneness with heaven. It’s helped me come face-to-face with who I really am, and the better I know my true self, the closer I feel to God.
Running, to me, is more of a spiritual practice than a physical one. It has taken me places I didn’t think I could ever go again. It’s a path of peace I won’t be stepping off soon.
Michael Fitzgerald is a husband and lover of all things outdoors. You can reach him at www.michaeljamesfitzgerald.com.