I do not think running meant anything until I had been in the Army for a couple of years. We went on two-mile runs on a regular basis, but I hated it. We ran in formation in long lines, singing songs led by a drill sergeant who would shout a line and we would return it or shout back given responses. I wish I could remember some of these, but they have all disappeared except for fragments like, “A yellow bird, (echo) with a yellow bill, (echo) was sitting on, (echo) my windowsill.” Where the (echo) was us echoing what the cadence caller had just shouted/sang. There was lots of swearing. We ran in green fatigues, in our leather “Army boots.” Never in tennis shoes. I was having difficulty running like this and went to an Army doctor who took X-rays of my feet. Back in 1974, I had been in a wreck where Scott, my high-school buddy, had fallen asleep at the wheel coming back from the Manti Temple. My foot had been crushed, but the Moab doctor had only noticed a broken leg and put a cast on me without fixing the crushed bones in my foot. They knitted together as mangled as they were when put into the cast after the wreck and for years people thought I walked like a duck because I was too lazy to push my foot back into position after being in a cast. Anyway, he saw my bones on the X-ray and was horrified by the mess. He said I should never run again. I got a ‘profile,’ which excused me from running with the troops, but strangely enough, it freed me to run on my own. I lived in a small city within biking distance from Schweinfurt where I was stationed, in the upper level of a house. It was on the edge of quiet rural areas and I would go for long runs through the forests and small farms that dotted the area. It was during this time that I learned to love running. It is odd, because when my Unit went for a run, I would be excused. They never suspected that later that day, I would run faster and further than any of them.
Our bodies are descended from a long line of runners. If you inspect the fossilized skeleton of a Homo erectus from the neck down, even physical anthropologists are hard-pressed to tell it from an anatomically modern human. This striding bipedal form came into being about two million years ago, a long time before we developed the big brain and rational accoutrements that Aristotle so cherished with its capacity for language and formal reason. Why this physical form? To run! Our body is apparently engineered by nature for the long jog. Dennis Bramble at University of Utah has pointed out that we are one of the best runners in the animal kingdom. Not that we are particularly speedy. Indeed, almost anything can outrun us in a sprint. But at running a distance (10k say) we are champions. Only the dog and horse are even in our league. Everything about us from the way our foot and knees are constructed, to the way our torso swings free from our hips and our stable foreword staring head are designed for trotting along for leagues. Not walking mind you–running.
The story of our bodies evolution seems to have its roots in scavenging and piracy. Picture a band of H. erectus, sitting around, the low foreheads encasing a slightly smaller brain, not quite allowing speech, but enough brains in place to make the same-shaped hand axes for over a million years (these were magnificent for crushing bones). These beasts (perhaps grouped in the shade of an Acacia tree), so much like us and yet so different, are highly social—like the common ancestor that sprouted both us and the chimps. Maybe this band is grooming one another; maybe gestures are becoming more advanced suggesting the first motion toward symbolic representation. But then suddenly, ten kilometers away, black dots appear hovering above the horizon—vultures. The reposing apes immediately leap to their feet and they run. Men, women and children all run together toward the circling vultures (excepting maybe the mothers with new infants—maybe them too). There is strong selection to get there quickly. The pride of lions that made the kill will devour most of it post-haste and what they leave will be snatched hurriedly by hyenas, jackals, and other scavengers. The band arrives at the kill and manifests the other trait that in all the animal kingdom only we and, presumably, our ancestors can do well. They pick up rocks and throw them. They have both speed and stunning accuracy at flinging rocks at their scavenger competitors and predatory providers. Although we can’t know for certain that they were as highly developed pitchers as we are (since throwing ability is a brain function and does not fossilize well), the anatomy for throwing is there and we may see the roots of baseball in this volley of well-aimed projectiles that drive the lions from their kill. Then with their well made stone axes chop off our booty and sit down to a sumptuous meal. They may have even cooked it.
What do I love about running? It is hard to say. I enjoy it at several levels. When I am running in Nature, like when I am running along the canal near my home in Pleasant Grove, I feel the air pumping through my lungs at a steady meter, my legs moving in rhythm with my arms swinging from side to side. I notice the air is fresh and I feel a part of things, connected to the world and its aspects. Things pass by as I jog along and as such, time seems disclosed and unmasked from its usually hidden place in the mystery of being. Distance and time become one, and the two can be exchanged without Einstein’s equations. Occasionally, I surprise the world and catch it being natural: ducks, deer, pheasants, quail, and such are spied before my trespass is marked and sets them in motion to evade my lumbering stride. When I run, the body and mind merge and I do not notice a separate consciousness sitting in the Cartesian theatre directing motion and watching out of its bay window. I become one thing. One running thing, which is not mind and body separately perceived, but one thing that works together in completeness and harmony—single entity, a thing in itself. Of course, this completeness of mind and body doesn’t always come, actually it is a kind of habit that is developed like meditation, not something striven for exactly, but something easily lost if my thoughts are on troubles, or my imagination has taken flight and I am lost in some fantasy. But when I run, I am my best self. I think this is because I have only one thing to do. And I do it well. Not that I am a good runner as viewed from others’ frames of reference (in fact some would not recognize it as running given the pace), but I run well from within. I have one purpose and it is easy and completable in the time I have. So I love to run. It takes me into time and out of time. It places me in motion, yet brings me stillness. It lets me touch nature with my own nature and the two join in a dynamic of combined grace.