Tracing where I've been

Twenty-One plus Eight Million Three-Hundred Eighty-Five Thousand Eight-Hundred Eighty-Two. What does that equal? Didn’t arrive at Twenty-Six? Clearly,  you lack the requisite arithmetic skills needed to succeed in life, and you should just give up now.

What? You’re still here? Ok…fine. My math is wildly incorrect, but this story isn’t about math, so worry not, and forge ahead, oh daring reader.

I’ll explain. 8,385,882. It’s a measure of  FIVE years of my life. During Thanksgiving week 2006, I began recording how many miles I ran each week and have been doing so since. In that period of time, I have taken 8,385,882 steps on runs of varying lengths over diverse terrain covering a distance of over 21,000,000 feet (average 2.55 foot stride) or just over 4,000 miles. Half a decade encapsulated in individual, finite steps, each neither more nor less important than another however different they may have been.

On the best of days, steps landed with supreme confidence, but much like the ebb and flow of the tides of life, often they touched down somewhat wavering, lacking conviction. However, regardless if I ran wielding confidence or was plagued with a doubt laden pace, these steps have carried me through tropical force winds, stinging rain, oppressive heat, and even blinding snow. Together, we’ve ventured down narrow city streets and followed along scarcely worn trails. We’ve found ourselves Where the Sidewalk Ends (Ref: Shel Silverstein) and where no path reached out to greet us, lost and afraid, but with faith, we’ve always found our way home again. On this journey, we’ve borne witness to the tranquility of many a sunrise and sunset, froggered through bustling rush-hour traffic with craftsman like precision, and reveled in the serenity that results from sand between the toes.

Like the great explorers before me, my steps traversed the great cities Europe and uncovered the hidden corners of Buenos Aires’ eclectic barrios. We’ve tip-toed along Lake Shore Drive and been in awe of the Magnificent Mile. Set to the rhythms of a Jimmy Buffett song, we cruised down A1A. Up and down Broad St. we went, and continued with Georgia on My Mind down Peachtree St. With a salsa flair bailamos en  la Avenida 9 de Julio y las Ramblas. We may have gotten River [faced] on [shit] St., but ran with esteemed pride beside the US Embassy near Strasse des 17 Juni. And although we have come to reside on Charleston’s marshes and cobblestone streets, we will always call Georgia’s rolling hills HOME.

In the past 5 years, on 16 separate occasions, these steps have floated in the weightlessness created by lacing up a new pair of running shoes, yet throughout, they have quietly and more frequently endured pain and soreness — the type of soreness induced by logging countless miles in worn out shoes better suited for yard work than perpetual training.

Riding an adrenaline or emotional high, we’ve increased turnover to reach full speed, but I’d be telling half truths if I failed to say that we have also stumbled and tripped producing abrasions, bruises and embarrassment in lieu of accolades and personal satisfaction. We’ve known the road to be both friendly and perilous — celebrating new accomplishments yet enduring the calamities that plague any seasoned runner (blisters, shin splints, sprains, strains, pulls, tears, and of course…. the trots)  but without fail, we always arrive at our destination.

What Force Compels Me?

Many who do not run cannot understand my passion for such an enduring and often difficult exercise. I mean, seriously. We (read:runners) take this shit to extremes. I wrote this article Running Addiction in November 2010, which was featured on the Atlanta Track Club’s website earlier this year.

For many years, I have vacillated with the rationale behind my unyielding devotion to running’s monotonous task.

  1. Do I run for health or for leisure? 
  2. Do I run to challenge myself or to take refuge in the great outdoors? 
  3. Am I running toward a better future or fleeing the demons of my past? “Anyway, like I was saying, I had a lot of company. My Mama always said you got to put the past behind you before you can move on. And I think that’s what my running was all about. I had run for three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours.” Forrest Gump
  4. Is it part vanity and pride?
  5. Or am I just in need of some quiet introspection? 
  6. Alas, is it not simply about proving my dedication and commitment? 
  7. You know forging my character?

Truth be told, I’ve run for all of these reasons. Likely, there’s more to which I am still blind. Whether running down Milledge Avenue (Greek Row) at the University of Georgia, shirtless in springtime to draw the attention a certain coed or running with tear-clouded vision in order to escape the grief from the loss of another, one thing has held constant, when I run, there is nothing else but me, the path before me, and the steps that land beneath me.

So why do I run? Does it vary day to day based upon the whimsical nature of my mood or is there an underlying force that I’ve somehow failed to see? It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the answer was the latter of the two.

Living 2.55 Feet & 1 Step at a Time

The concept was there, but it didn’t have a name. I knew its existence but was without the means to articulate it. When I run, I am alive. I live 100% in the moment celebrating each step as I go. I live life 2.55 feet at a time.

There is no place you can be but the present

When running, behind me lies a path marked both by giant strides of success and footprints of misfortune, but I recognize that each has done their part to bring me to the present point in my journey. Just as the path already traveled is immutable, the road ahead is rife with uncertainty but I must endeavor to proceed lest I cast myself into limbo never reaching my destination.

Although the joy is in the journey, no one ever embarks without the destination in mind. But I’ve learned that no matter how much energy I exert, I will never get to mile 6 without first completing miles 1-5. I will only get to that future point 2.55 feet at a time. Thus, I neither wallow in the lingering footprints that lie behind me nor toil in worry about whether a maze or a direct corridor waits up ahead. For neither yields anything of value. Rather I celebrate each step as it strikes and forget everything else.

Are you starting to understand why I run?

Last month, I read a post titled Atomic Action by Rob White (critical point, read this post and anything else Rob shares!!) and, for the first time, I knew why running has been such an integral part of my life. It is the only time I fully engage myself in the present moment, expending my energy only where it can actually return value. The NOW. I mean, right this very damn minute kind of now.

Perhaps other people have their own medium to connect with this awesome phenomenon, but for me, it is running. There is no greater elation that I’ve experience than being immersed in the present. In fact, I feel such an inner harmony that I would tend to say that there is a large degree of spirituality that comes from living in the Present.

Stripped of all worldly distractions and stress, the open air affords me the time and clarity to speak truly to myself, and in a sense, I know that when I speak so candidly, God is there listening. Is it because I’m running or that I’m living in the present moment that creates these feelings? The more I study the idea, the more I am convinced that while I love running, it is merely a mechanism that facilitates living in the present.

Recognizing this important fact, I aim to bring living in the present into more spheres of my life. Whether it’s worrying about upcoming bills or job deadlines or conjuring up infinite what-ifs of past relationships or career blunders, living outside of the present moment only induces a greater sense of anxiety. Letting go and realizing the most precious gift of life is the present moment (this one right now) is the way we are supposed to live.

I know what you’re thinking, “Sure, Jamey, living in the present is easy when things are going our way, but what about when we are in a world of hurt and distress? How do we celebrate that?” I’m not saying it’s an easy road to travel. In life, tragedy is guaranteed to befall each and every one of us, but  remember that it is our faltering steps, our stumbles, and those times when we snatch failure from the hands of victory that we sow the seeds of future success. Those are the moments when our character is born, cast and forged in the fires of adversity. So, celebrate the bad with the good. For we can endure, and we must endure if we are ever to succeed..

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure darkness for it shows me the stars” Og Mandino

Now it’s your turn. I’d like you to open up. Share the moments when you best live in the present. Maybe it’s time spent with your kids or laying in bed with your spouse on a rainy day watching old movies. Maybe it’s in the kitchen preparing dinner or sitting in the park doodling on a artists’ pad. Whatever it may be, share it, and recognize the awesome power that living in the present can have on your life.

Thanks for reading.

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  • http://twitter.com/lifeforinstance Life, for instance

    Hi Jamey! This is a great description of how you live in the moment and what you learn from running “I’ve learned that no matter how much energy I exert, I will never get to mile 6 without first completing miles 1-5.” – patience, persistence, trust.
    I used to run cross country and I loved the run, but I have to say it did nothing to clear my mind, unless of course, we’re talking about that final sprint when my only thought was to make it over the finish line as fast as possible!Now I find the present moment by stepping outside my door. My desk faces a window which looks out on our back yard in the country – a wild back yard with pine and spruce trees, perennials and a patio and some out-buildings. The brook runs right down from the spring in the woods and passes our house (if I open the window, I can hear it!) There is something about just stepping outside that is magical, even after having lived here for six years now! It still stops me, stills me, makes me feel connected with ALL, causes me to breathe more deeply. Magical.I’m not sure it’s the same thing you’re talking about. Looking at the scene outside my window doesn’t do it for me – I have to step into it! :-)Nice to see you back here!Lori

    • http://www.lifeasanexperiment.com James D. Burrell II

      Lori,

      Your example is exactly what I’m talking about. Full emersion in the moment is the most exceptional way to live. Unfortunately, because of the multitude of distractions present in our lives, it isn’t alway possible to achieve living in the moment. But I’ll agree, being in nature, clearing one’s head and just listening to the sounds of a forrest can awaken a supreme sense of being alive. I wish I could bottle that feeling, and when life becomes too much to bear, just sip on a little of that nectar. Ah, that would be great wouldn’t it?

      Thanks for your wonderful comment and support as always.
      -JB

  • http://twitter.com/livefortherun Nichole

    What an absolutely remarking story. This post is incredibly inspirational. I put a big smile on my face when I saw, Milledge Avenue. I cannot believe you’ve been counting your steps for that long! Insane. 

    Running, moving, means something different to everyone and that’s what I love about it. Coming to the UK, the pace is different and I have slowed down and realised what’s important to me, and my family. 

    Why we run? Why not!

    • http://www.lifeasanexperiment.com James D. Burrell II

      Alas, Nichole, I haven’t been running with a pedometer all this time. But I have logged my mileage for 5 years, took that distance and divided it by my average stride length. Not exact, but pretty close. 

      I need to find an article I read a few years back to send to you. It’s about the 2 runners that live in each of us. 1 trains tirelessly just to eclipse that personal best. You know, the one that you completed on a deserted road without fanfare and telling no one? She sprints at the end just to shave .01 seconds off the clock. Then there’s the other. The one that finds contentment in the freedom of the road. The one that doesn’t care about splits or distances or personal bests … or worsts. All that matters is the joy of the experience. Needless to say, it’s an amazing read. 

  • http://mindadventure.com/blog rob

    Hi Jamey,
    Indeed, you have nailed the premise of Atomic Action! I’ve tremendously enjoyed delving deeper into your own personal experience (here and with wonderful comments). I especially appreciate your awareness of all the reasons you do run… including a degree of vanity. Powerful stuff. For me, I have what I call an inspiring addiction to writing. When I am in flow I am absolutely in tune with my ultimate expression. Feeling that  connection to universal mind is the real reason we continually seek to express and evolve.

    • http://www.lifeasanexperiment.com James D. Burrell II

      I couldn’t agree more. When we full devote ourselves to the task at hand, no matter its form, there is a certain degree of spirituality that is attained. For me, speaking to people, writing, and athletics are the avenue to that place. But if the last year has taught me anything, it’s important to continue to try new experiences because there are many ways to achieve this kind of happiness. 

      Rob, I sincerely appreciate your kind words, and I look forward to getting to know you more in the weeks and months to come because there is no doubt that you have much to share.

      All the best!!