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My Journey to the Marathon (4):
The Runner's Spirituality

Some updates with my training progress. Apart from the usual tempo runs and speedwork, last weekend I did my longest run up to now: 27km. It was the first time I went over the 25km mark, and there were the first signs of protest from my body. Back-pain, knee-pain...a bit of everywhere-pain. I'm slightly worried about my knee after last year's injuries. In the last few weeks though, I discovered trail running. It seems the mud and soft soil help to prevent injuries and lessen the stress on your knees. In fact, yesterday I went for a lovely 23.3km trail run along the Victoria Lines and Chadwick Lakes. Very strong force 8 North-Western winds, but nothing beats the sweet smell of the wet soil after the rain. And the good thing was that at the end there was no hint of the pain which usually starts showing after the 20km mark. It seems that trail running can maybe save my over-30km runs in January. We'll see how it goes.


In these recent runs, I have thought about the link that exists between running and spirituality. I started running regularly two years ago, and in the months that followed, I realized that I was changing. I was becoming much more introspective, philosophical, almost poetic, and in a certain sense, even more spiritual. It didn't occur to me that this growth was in any way related to running, until I read the book "Running and Philosophy: A Marathon of the Mind".

This book gave me a new perspective of how running was changing me. Without realizing it, I had suddenly found a regular time where I could be on my own and cut off from the world, where I could reflect on my life, converse with my inner self, and meditate on the most fundamental and existential questions. Running had become my spiritual niche.

And it's not very difficult to realize why. Spirituality is a life-long interior journey of growth and self-discovery, an on-going search for a meaning to one's life and his unanswered questions. And there's no better time to pursue this interior journey than while pursuing a parallel physical one. Because each run is a journey on its own. Whether you set out for 5k, 10k, or 25k, that run has a departure point and a destination. A target. A purpose. And since, as Aristotle says, we are what we repeatedly do, that's what happens to the runner. Ironically, running turns life from one fast-paced run into an "examined life", a life with a purpose, with a meaning. That "examined life", which as Socrates says, is the life worth living.

But this is not the only similarity that exists between spirituality and running. Spirituality is not contained within the individual. It is expressed and shared with others through religion. In the same way, the passion for running is shared in a race or fun run, or just a run with friends: where runners come together to share the love of running with the rest of the sports community. And this function too comes with its own rituals: pre-race nutrition, race registration, preparing your clothing and shoes, warming-up and stretching. Rituals make an event feel more special and important, and give it an identity.

The other spiritual aspect of running is the great connection you build with the surrounding environment by running outdoors. You start noticing things which you usually took for granted: the spectacles of sunrise and sunset, the flora and fauna surrounding us, the smells of the countryside. You feel an inner energy, another level of consciousness, that binds us all. Call it the Cosmic Force, the Universal Energy, God, or whatever you feel comfortable with. It's that something within us that when you manage to attune yourself to, makes your life feel part of the Whole. I believe it's the root from where that wonderful feeling of atonement at each finish-line stems.

But there is a deeper similarity between spirituality and running: they both try to give a meaning to human suffering. And the perspective from which they look at it is almost identical. They both promise that suffering and sacrifice are followed by glory at the finish-line. That Death is followed by the Resurrection.

I wish a happy new year full of love, joy and blessings, to all of you and your families.

I am running the Marathon for Inspire Malta (www.inspire.org.mt). To support my run and make a donation for this charitable institution, send an SMS to one of the below numbers, with the text "Mark Sammut, Malta Marathon". Thanks in advance.
50617359 - €2.33; 50618080 - €4.66; 50618926 - €6.99; 50619215 - €11.65

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