Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Sometimes Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Michael Whitson
Boston is the Holy Grail of marathons. You not only have to be able to cover the distance, you have to do it well, and you must qualify to participate. We have all read the stories about the iconic nature of the race and its history. It wasn’t that many years ago that the first woman participant was nearly chased off the course by the race director.

There have been lots of conversations and observations about the social nature of marathon running and running in general. And while all of that is true, a great deal of marathon training is a very solitary pursuit, much like the pursuit of our faith or whatever sense of spiritual hope we look for. Like all of these taxing and arduous preoccupations, at times they are utterly physical and we are focused on nothing more than the next breath, the next foot-fall and the next mile. Nothing else. Not the beginning or the end; only that movement right in front of us.

At the same time, there are occasions when it is utterly thoughtless. We are completely outside of ourselves, or so far inside ourselves that we have really no sense of who we are. But these runs happen rarely, and something far more mundane in the midst of these two extremes is what we normally are faced with – the everyday do and die, just as the everyday struggle for peace is also rarely spectacular but mostly routine.

The pursuit of the marathon is never to be taken lightly. It is a serious challenge and perhaps it is a small mirror to our pursuit of a state of grace, or the sacred or whatever other description we paint on our life’s preoccupations for those things that are greater than ourselves.

What we look for in the long runs and long prayers are sometimes one and the same. While part of a larger community of the hopeful, this is often something that only makes sense to ourselves.

So violence has now washed over yet something else that we could have hardly imagined. Of course, most everyone who runs did exactly what they must as soon as they were able after the explosions in Boston. Put on their shoes and go run. Yet we are utterly bewildered by all of this.

It is strange to see among all of the experts talking endlessly on TV about security and terrorism, experts at running talking about the nature of the marathon and what makes running so important to many of us.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is whatever it is we look for in these endless runs is, in fact, the same thing we look for in our relationship with our God and the best we can hope for is often terribly inadequate but somehow enough. It is the extremes of the physical and the spiritual, the interior and the exterior. We are lost in the long run as we are often lost in the church. They are both acts of a true faith.

Michael Whitson is a member of Christ Church, Chaptico and a former member of Diocesan Council. Share your reactions, reflections, and comments to his post on Facebook.