Beyond the physical benefits, for the first time I felt a part of something, something pretty cool—the running community. No matter what your level, if you run, you're a runner, and you're accepted. I can't remember which elite marathon runner said it, but what he said has stuck with me over the years. He said that he had the upmost respect for the everyday runner who takes 5 hours to complete a marathon. He couldn't image the commitment and endurance it took to run for that long. That kind of mutual respect is what abounds with runners. No matter the level, you can relate to (at least on some level) what the other runner (novice or elite) is going through.
If you've been running for any length of time, you've probably realized that running provides much more than just the physical benefits. Once you get past that initial pain of getting your body used to running, you begin to realize the mental benefits of the sport. What other sport allows you time to reflect, think, dream, and/or meditate all in a 30-minute run? I use my runs to clear my head, work through problems, ponder the future, or just appreciate the beauty that surrounds me on many of my running routes. A lot of old baggage is left on the trail after one of my runs. My load is lightened and I feel refreshed. Ironic, huh? To feel refreshed when I'm soaking wet, smelly, and salt incrusted, but that's exactly what I am. I also feel a sense of accomplishment, not only for the physical exercise, but for the decisions I've made, plans I've worked out, ideas I've thought through, or problems I've solved.
Not only can you use the mental side of running to achieve your own personal state of Zen, you can also use it to improve your running. Most of us probably aren't going to be elite runners winning Boston or Chicago, but we all can improve. Many of the limitations we have as runners are self-imposed. We think we can't so we don't. One thing running has done for me is build confidence. This confidence has helped me achieve things in running I thought I never would like achieving a sub 20-minute 5K at 42 years old! That same year I set a PR for a half marathon at 1:30:47. That's no world record by any means, but it showed me that if you believe in yourself and trust your training, you can achieve goals you once thought were unattainable.
Running can definitely help you push through those self-imposed barriers. The confidence that running provides can also spill over into other areas of your life—family, work, school. There are lots of books available that teach you how to run or train for specific races, but if you look hard you can also find some great books that help you understand and benefit from the mind-body-spirit connection that running can provide. Listed below are some of the books I highly recommend:
Running Within by Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott—A guide to mastering the body-mind-spirit connection to the ultimate training and racing.
Once a Runner by John Parker—"Perhaps the best novel ever written about running. There are parts of Once a Runner that are pure poetry. I have never read descriptions of what it is to run and race as accurate and compelling as Parker's."—Tom Jordan, Track & Field News
The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life by Amby Burfoot—The author shares what 35 years of running has taught him about winning, losing, happiness, humility, and the human heart.
Running The Spiritual Path by Roger D. Joslin—A runner's guide to breathing, meditating, and exploring the prayerful dimension of the sport.
Running - The Sacred Art: Preparing to Practice by Warren A. Kay—The author takes you on an exploration of an often-overlooked facet of the sport: running as an intentional spiritual practice.
Running With the Buffaloes by Chris Lear—A season inside with Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and the University of Colorado men's cross-country team
Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzgerald—A revolutionary new training system to improve endurance, speed, health, and results.