Putting on my running clothes,
I feel their lightness.
As I walk outside,
I vow to run with a light heart.
In his book Running: The Spiritual Path, Episcopal seminarian and marathoner Roger Joslin talks about putting on our running clothes as if they were priestly vestments. That sounds solemn, but I don’t think solemnity was what Joslin was after. Solemnity has nothing important to do with real spirituality, anyway, and it has less than nothing to do with running. What Joslin is talking about is more the idea of approaching running mindfully. When we’re mindful, every experience can be holy, in the purest sense of that word: “exalted or worthy of complete devotion,” according to my dictionary.
“Running is my church,” a friend once said simply. And going to church begins before we ever take a step toward the sanctuary, with choosing what to wear.
Start by remembering that running is a gift, something you can enter into fully using only a t-shirt, shorts, socks, and a pair of shoes, and stepping just outside your front door. How many of our daily activities are that uncomplicated and free? No car, no phone, no meeting to discuss where to run or how fast to go, no specific place you have to be at a certain time. When you decide to go for a run, you have presented yourself with a wonderful present. Take a little time to enjoy unwrapping it first.
Slowly open the drawer or closet where your running clothes are stashed. Some people I know don’t like the artificial high-tech materials many running shirts and shorts are made with, and run only in cotton. I like the special lightweight fabrics. Putting them on after a full day of wearing much heavier, more restrictive clothing, I take a moment to enjoy their lightness, their smoothness. Just as my black pajama pants and t-shirt help me prepare for meditation, my running clothes help me enter more fully into the realm of running. Just slipping one of my running shirts over my head and feeling it slide down my torso brings me out of the heaviness of work and into a lighter, more breathable realm.
Stepping outside onto the front porch, I lean down to carefully unknot my shoes and re-tie them into double knots. “You runners,” a woman spectator once laughed near the starting area of a marathon as I checked my laces. “Always double knotting those shoes.” And it’s true – most runners I know do it. I don’t know if a double knot is really necessary; I’m certainly not going so fast that my shoes are going to fly off my feet into someone’s yard or a ravine, and the material most running shoe laces are made of makes it very hard for them to come untied at any rate. But the double knot is another way of mindfully entering into a run. I don’t double knot my work shoes, or my tennis shoes when I get ready to go to the store. Double knotting is reserved for running. It’s part of a ritual, the same as always bowing when I enter a meditation hall or making the sign of the cross at the Eucharist. In some small, vital way, it helps focus my attention on what I’m about to do.
Many runners extend the pre-run ritual by briefly stretching their muscles, although I confess I have never been a stretcher. As I stand back up from double knotting my shoes, I immediately move forward and the run begins.
But even before the run began, mindfully putting on my special clothes, my running vestments, prepared me for it. Freed of my work pants and shirt and my clunky leather shoes, I feel as if I’ve just been let out of prison and am taking the first steps into a reformed life. My earlier worries about non-existent futures and regrets of fading pasts are quickly drowned out by the present honesty of my steps and my breathing, the lively reality of breezes and birds. Pushing gently forward, my feet lift me away from the earth, and my clothes dance over my body with every stride. I’m grateful. I’m running.