(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each week, this one from October 2001.)
In the days post-September 11th, I heard from many runners. They split about equally between those who ran anyway but felt guilty about it, and those who couldn’t bring themselves to run because it seemed suddenly unimportant, even disrespectful.
My daily run was slow to start then. But I never thought about not starting it and never felt this act trivialized the tragedy.
Running still mattered, and now more than ever. To head out anyway at a time like this wasn’t heartless or selfish; just the opposite.
I wasn’t going out to play, but to worry and to mourn. This run opened my heart to thoughts about the pain of others. No one could run away from a problem this immense.
Running lets us deal with a problem instead of avoiding it. A run can turn down the volume and slow the pace of events – away from the radio, TV, computer, car, job – and can let us stare the problem in the face.
Such runs can be wrenching, as tears and fears rise up with nothing to deflect them. This is a necessary part of healing, since letting ourselves feel our worst helps us start to feel better.
We could do the same by going for a walk or bike ride, or just sitting in a quiet room. But running is where we go in the bad times because this is a friend we know so well.
Some tragedies are national, and we all must endure them together. More often these are the personal blows that strike each of us, and we must work through them on our own: the death of someone close, the birth of a handicapped child, the end of a marriage.
My first huge loss was my father, when he was 54 and I just half that age. This hit me so hard that I couldn’t write a word about it, or anything else, for a long time.
Yet in those darkest of days I never missed a run. He was a former runner himself and a great lifelong fan of the sport, but I didn’t use the comforting line, “He would have wanted me to keep running.”
That would have been a minor truth. The bigger reason I kept running was because I needed it, and then more than ever.
Running when you’re hurting inside is important. It can’t solve the world’s problems, nor can it make your own disappear. That isn’t the purpose of a crisis-run.
What the running on those days does is let you step away from ground zero, look inside yourself, and sort through your thoughts and emotions before coming back to wrestle with the new realities. That’s why running still matters – more than ever.
UPDATE FROM 2014
Hard times followed, for me as they do for everyone. I ran through the passing of my mother and my brother (both in the same year)… through my wife’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, and my own… through the divorces of two children… through the end of a job, in my 60s, that I’d held since my 20s. But these mournful mornings were balanced by runs that celebrated great times, too numerous to recount here.
[Hundreds of previous articles, dating back to 1998, can be found at joehenderson.com/archive/. Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in as many as three different formats: (1) in print from Amazon.com; (2) as e-books from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; (3) as PDFs for e-reader devices and apps, from Lulu.com. Latest released was Going Far. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]