Running gets us in touch with our purest and most life-enhancing instincts, writes Peter Maher

The paradox at the heart of distance running is that it can be simultaneously painful yet joyous. After what some might see as the monotony of training, participation in a long distance race like a marathon has a magical quality about it that can lead you towards a cycle of self discovery.

The late Dr. George Sheehan looked to an old Greek concept known as arête to encapsulate his philosophy of running. The concept of arête has layers of meaning, but Sheehan defined it as “a simple pursuit of excellence through body, mind and spirit.” His wisdom on this subject was vast and he explained that in order to be good humans, we are required to be ‘good animals’; he believed that through running we could tap into our better and purest primal instincts. Unfortunately, in our pursuit of other goals, many of us seem to have lost the essence of this natural urge. Look around you and observe a society that is more ill than at any time in its existence, a society beset by coronary heart attacks, obesity, diabetes, cancer and many more ailments, a society that has effectively done a 180o turn away from the natural order. In times of abundance we tend to neglect the importance of mind and spirit and focus instead on the frivolous and ephemeral. It’s no coincidence that the latest economic downturn has re-activated the interest in running. This is very similar to what happened in the early 1980s when thousands of people discovered that this simplest of activities can restore balance, harmony and a rhythm to your life.

The beauty of running is that it’s there for all – novice and Olympian alike; the joy can be equal for the sub-2:10 or 6:12 marathoner. It is fitting that the marathon is the closing event
to the Olympics as it’s a testimony to the harmony of body mind and spirit, a harmony that we all aspire to at some time in our lives. The marathon is a simple and powerful expression of self reliance and the ability to endure.

Training for the marathon or a long distance race is a journey where you get to ask questions of body, mind, and spirit – provided you don’t wear one of those annoying headsets. A victory is available to you daily with each run. Get out there no matter what the elements are throwing at you and, through your running, you can connect with that Olympian spirit of arête and flush away some of life’s excesses. As we run and allow our bodies to flow in the act of running, we are the recipients of health, confidence and creative energy. A higher level of self esteem resonates from within. The only person that gets to feel this is you and that’s the point after all. Savour your gradual transformation by standing in front of the mirror or stepping on the scales. This is not vanity; it’s simply taking some pride in the results of your efforts.

Keep running and, over time, the smile will return to your eyes and the joy of life will pulse through your veins. The routine of work becomes easy, and simple pleasures will take on a far greater meaning for you. Crippling internal issues will melt away as you learn how to master stress. All that is required is time put aside for some pure running. Return to nature, respond to that primal call. Pure Running equals pure medicine. No pills, just the fresh air and a heaving diaphragm to set the body, mind and spirit free. Get that arête feeling.