Monday, August 23, 2010

The Mind-Body Connection in Running

The Mind-Body Connection in Running

For many people running assumes a near obsessive aspect in their lives. I’ve often heard non-runners accuse those of us who “must get our five miles in” or we’ll be off in some way that we are addicted. Well, I know that if I don’t eat a substantially healthy breakfast I’ll feel “off” for the first half of the day. However, breakfast (as we’ve been told since we were children) is the most important meal of the day. My mom never said my daily run was essential to my overall health.

So can I categorize my need to run as healthy? I answer with an emphatic YES! What I’ll start here is a list of reasons why we need to run (many of these will be entire subjects in later blogs). Harvard’s Evolutionary Biology department, a pretty prestigious organization, asserts that long-distance running is the reason why we survived as a species. They start with the question: what advantage did we gain leaving trees, shedding most of our hair, walking upright on two legs, and overall becoming physically weaker than our earlier ancestors? The answer (drum roll please…), to run further! They call it subsistence hunting.

Basically in laymen’s terms it goes something like this: bipeds, while being unable to run fast can circulate more oxygen to the strong leg muscles, as there isn’t massive chest and arm muscles to support. Moreover, the loss of overall body hair meant we perspire more efficiently, being able to endure extreme temperatures - very useful advantage in the heat-stoked savannahs of Africa. But you may ask, can’t the antelope run faster than a human? Why of course, but if a group of humans coordinate, communicate and separate one singular antelope from the heard and run it to exhaustion, the simple endurance of the human (the ability to run long distance, and disperse heat) by far out does the antelope. The tribe would literally run the antelope to death in the heat. This called for skillful communication between members of the tribe along with the natural born need to run!

I assert this is why so many of us like to run in groups, let alone like to run at all. As the New York Times best seller book suggests, we are literally BORN TO RUN. But not just for ourselves, for the sake of our community. Is it any wonder that the most successful cancer research charity uses group running as it’s medium to gain members and support? Without getting too far “out there” running is one of the closest things to a physical spirituality. It connects us to something that is common to all of human civilization; namely, to run, to communicate, and to find some reason for enduring all of life’s vicissitudes. That’s what I call a practical spirituality that even the most avowed secularist could accept!

So why must us “obsessive” runners get our run in? Because it’s literally in our DNA. Running provides us with some of the most essential physical conditioning – necessary for healthy bones, muscles, and hearts. For many it’s the locus of our social lives as well. The most elusive reason, however, is known to every runner, it’s that feeling we get that gives us that stupid grin after even the most difficult of runs. We all know what that smile means – and if you don’t, then I invite you to come run with us, we’ll help you find it!