Every now and then I forget that the exercise of running is not the only reason that I get out of bed at 5:00am. Normally an injury will provide an excuse for me to sleep in. “Sleeping in” is not what it once was. Now sleeping in means skipping the run and meeting the troupe at 6:30 am at St. Timothy’s for coffee. And after 28 years of early morning running, I am no longer able to sleep past 7:00 am unless I want a headache to remind me that I should have run.
So what are the “other” benefits?
- Avoiding the typical morning stupor. Adrenaline is a most effective and natural chemical to provide the best perspective on a new day. Regardless of how thick the mental fog may be, it dissipates after about 30 seconds of running. The last vestiges of yesterday’s issues are shaken off and replaced with fresh perspective on the new day and an emerging belief that there are no insurmountable obstacles, . . . no unsolvable problems. This is so far beyond crawling out of bed on a bare-budget time schedule that has you scrambling mindlessly, the highest aspiration to simply get to your workplace on time.
- Laughter, therapy for the soul. We have a capable psychologist in the group who is convinced that there are psychotics among us. I defer to his expertise. However his expertise may not be his greatest gift to us. Mostly it is the suggestion that we are not with normal people. Even the possibility that I may be the least normal. I am reminded, as the fun is poked, that I will enjoy the day so much more if I begin by resisting the temptation to take “me” quite so seriously. Maybe, I can afford to take my job, regardless of what it is, a little less to heart. And maybe I can do all of this and actually be a more productive human being. Perhaps, if I see the humor in me that my closest friends see, I can engage in less conflict with others. Maybe I can admit my mistakes rather than defensively denying them. And possibly, if I can become a more authentic person, there may be others who will do the same. All this without a single sermon? I remember asking myself how many people in our harried society begin each day with numbers of “belly-laughs”. I believe that I am among the very few.
- Good company. Few of us would admit it readily to the others. I suspect however, that I am among some of the greatest men in the world. They are faithfully at their stations, changing their worlds incrementally. Most days they are unaware of this. My personal belief is that God is most able to use us when we are less self-conscious. “The more I think of God – the less I think of me and the more I think of me – the less I think of God.” When I begin to think of life-changing moments and lessons that have shaped me, I remember that they have come in unexpected times and places, from unexpected sources. I begin my day with good men and they are Divinely and unconsciously empowered to help me frame my world. The importance of good company cannot be overestimated.
- The “metastasis” of discipline. One of the positive shades of meaning of an otherwise nasty word is “a spiritual change, such as in baptism”. When I began to run my body was the master of my mind. My body told me when to get up. My body told me to quit when it hurt. The discipline of running has been the coup of mind over body. As I learned to push myself to my limits and beyond, I learned that I could do this in all areas of my life. This was discipline metastasizing through my life. Running now requires no more discipline from me than taking a walk. But the life lesson that has come through it, has seen me through times and circumstances that have spelled the end for others of my peers.
- Just one more. Alignment. I believe that the value of all these things comes from natural principles that are as much a part of creation as gravity or photosynthesis. And they are not by “chance” but clearly by “design”. They spring from the heart and nature of the Creator, the giver of all good gifts. They are innately resident, but often dormant, until the “spiritual” being within us is regenerated or made alive. Running for me has become a spiritual experience, a connecting point . . . really. I have formulated sermons, prayed prayers, sought forgiveness, discovered humility, comforted friends or been comforted myself. I have seen sunrises that many miss. I have seen tiny mice turn to fight cats. I have seen deer and moose in the city core. I have stopped to talk to people who have been starved to find someone who cares. I have had the definite sense that God had reasons greater than my own for being out early in the morning. So yes, it is a spiritual experience.
Now if you ask most any of my friends about what I have just said, they will disavow any knowledge of me as a 6AM Runner.