Solving The World’s Problems While Running

I like running. I’m a running maniac. And by that, I don’t mean I run a tremendous distance every time I run because I don’t. I’m not like some of those crazy people who run marathons many times each year like it’s no big deal. While I absolutely want to, I have yet to run a marathon. (The most distance I get is the occasional 5K which I do every few years).

So I don’t put a huge amount of mileage on my feet every time I hit the ground. But I do hit the ground often. I go to the gym at least three times a week because I have to. I must run. I have to run. I can’t not run. I need to feel myself breathing hard and sweating… I need to feel that burning fire in my lungs in order to feel alive.

I picked up a running habit in the eighth grade when I joined the Track & Field team, and, like Forrest Gump, I’ve just never been able to stop. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

I run for three main reasons: to stay fit, to reduce stress, and to think.

I have a stressful life: being self-employed as the sole income earner for a family of seven is really challenging, and I’m still trying to deal with the death of my brother, the suicide of a friend, and some serious health challenges running in my family (no pun intended). So I run to help me relieve some of the unbelievable anxiety and muscle tightness I accumulate at the end of each day. When I’m huffing and puffing and breathing loudly, and sweat is rolling down my forehead, I can feel the stress literally melting away.

Also, it helps me clear my mind. When I’m running, I can’t be on the phone, or typing, or talking to other people… so it gives me a chance to think. I’m usually listening to deep philosophical audiobooks when I’m running, so that helps engage my mind, but I’m still able to focus on the big picture and think about the problems I’m currently facing, and the problems the rest of the world is facing.

I’ve spoken to other runners about this before: I’ve joked with more than one runner about how all the runners in the world have already solved all the problems in the world. We’ve thought of all the world’s issues and challenges, and slowly, over time, mulled them over as we run, and have found the perfect solution for every one of them.

“If only everybody would listen to me and do what I suggest, all the problems in the world would be solved,” one runner told me. I agree. If everybody listened to runners, the world would be a better place.

Taking a break at a local park, to catch my breath, and pond life’s biggest issues.

Runners have time to ponder the meaning of life, and all the hardest questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What does it all mean? Why do people do this instead of that? Why don’t people think more before they act? Why don’t they ask people like us who have thought through the big issues and come to major conclusions?

It’s a weird place to be: running is like putting time in suspended animation. You see the world around you still moving, but you get a chance to hit the “pause” button and take a few minutes (or a few hours) and completely disconnect from society, and think about what really matters in life. I have solved all kinds of problems on the treadmill at the gym.

And I don’t just run at the gym, either. I do like to run outdoors… although since I live in Arizona, that’s much more difficult in the summertime. Sometimes I run outside at night, or when the sun is going down… and sometimes right in the middle of the day, when it’s 111ºF outside and my face flushes deep red and I’m covered in what feels like gallons of sweat.

It’s a sanctifying experience: you take a break from your normal routine and you usually go away from home (and other people) and make time to be in nature, with just you and God. You you think about everything you’ve done in the past, and what you want to do in the future.

You think about your regrets, your resolutions, your fears, desires, and passions, and all the while you’re getting hot and angry and flustered and miserable but you keep pushing through it, and eventually, you come right back to where you started but you’re a changed person. You take a shower, and you feel clean, refreshed, energized, and purified somehow.

It’s the middle of the afternoon in Arizona, in July, and it’s 111ºF. Yep, I’m still running.

I can’t really explain it if you’ve never done it: you just have to try it. People who like to run know what I mean. And people who hate running (and you’ll know these people because they’ll literally tell you “I hate running!”) have no idea what they’re missing out on.

There are a few other things I’ve learned from running multiple times a week for the past few decades. In no particular order, here are a few random observations I’ve gathered.

#1: I really, really, really don’t like dogs.

If runners are Superman, dogs are Kryptonite. Dogs are the most obnoxious, stupid, creatures on the planet. I have no idea why God saw fit to create them in the first place. I’ve always disliked dogs since the day I was born, and being a runner gave me even more reason to hate them.

Dogs make runner’s lives miserable. They bark at us when they hear us approaching. They keep barking at us until we leave. They scratch and paw and jump at the fences that separate us as if they’re going to attack us. If we’re running around the block and we pass the same house with a dog two or three times, that stupid animal is going to bark at us every single time. It never figures out “Oh, this guy is just running past my house. He’s harmless.” Nope, in their minds, each time I round the corner, it’s a new person who needs to be barked at.

Sometimes, I’ve been chased by dogs. Usually, it’s just annoying. When a little Dachshund is pathetically trying to chase after me with his tiny little legs and his teenage-pitched bark, thinking I’m afraid of him, it’s just silly.

But sometimes, it’s terrifying. I’ve been chased by enormous dogs, including dogs that look like Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, and they look like they literally want to kill me—and I know they easily could. When that happens, it ruins my run, and sometimes, my entire day.

Most of the time, if I run past a dog owner who has a dog on a leash, the dog will try to chase me, and the owner will start yelling at his dumb dog. “Stop it Fido. Fido! Stop it. Be quiet Fido! Fido, shush!” — None of these impotent commands work, of course, and it just causes an awkward scene for as long as I’m in the line of sight.

Once I ran past the house of one of my neighbors and his giant dog started chasing after me. The owner got extremely angry and started running after his dog, and screaming out “You jackass!” — I had no idea if he was calling his dog a jackass, or me. I didn’t like this dog, but I liked his owner even less.

If I ever run past a dog that is not on a leash and the owner is nearby, usually the dog will start chasing me and the owner will shout out “It’s okay… he’s friendly!” When this happens, all I ever want to do is shout out “That’s fine, but I’m not!” I’ve thought about carrying pepper spray to protect myself from dogs when I run, but I haven’t yet.

It’s a wonder I haven’t yet died from a heart attack from all the times I’ve gotten startled by dogs I didn’t know were there until I ran past their fence… my heart rate is already highly elevated by running, I can’t believe I can survive the spikes I get from fright when this happens.

#2: Runners get to know their neighborhoods better than anyone.

When I run around my neighborhood, I get to know who lives where. I learn which cars belong to which houses, who leaves for work first, and when, who comes home late, who is having a party, and a lot more. I know which houses have kids in them, which houses have the kids that play out front, and which houses have the kids that play out back.

I know who likes to have barbecues on the weekend, and I can smell what they’re grilling. When I go out at night, I can feel the heat wafting in my direction from parked cars, so I know who recently got home from work. I know who works the night shift. I know who stays up late watching TV. I know which houses have families that sit quietly at their dinner tables, and which ones scream at each other and have loud dysfunctional relationships.

I know which families like to decorate their houses for the holidays, and I can often tell what their religion or culture is based on what decorations they choose. After a while, I get to notice the cadence of the seasons and holidays, and I can predict which houses are going to put up decorations first, and just how intense they’ll go in their efforts.

If crimes are ever committed in a neighborhood, I’ve always thought that the local police department should try to find out who all the runners in the area and ask them what they saw and heard. Because, trust me, we notice things other people don’t.

At the gym where I do most (but not all) of my running

#3: There are social runners and solitary runners. I’m a solitary runner.

I’ve tried running with other people before, and it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not my thing. I sometimes hear of running clubs, or people who train together, or people who do a social run and then all go drink beer afterward, and that sounds kind of interesting, but it’s not my thing.

Maybe if I were training for a marathon, I might join in with some people. But to this point, I’ve never wanted to. To me, running is an intensely personal, spiritual, solitary thing where, as I’ve said, it’s just me, God, and the road. That’s it. I’m like that when I’m running outside, and at the gym.

Sometimes people at the gym try to talk to me, and I don’t understand that at all. I want to be left alone. I have nothing to say to people who want to get chatty when I’m working out, other than, maybe, “Leave me alone.”

When I’m running, my head is so full of intense thoughts, and prayers, and ideas, and mental note-taking, and listening to my breathing pattern, and focusing on my heartbeat, and being thankful that I even have a heartbeat that I can’t possibly focus on other people, or a conversation, or focusing on what someone says to me so that I can formulate a response back to them.

No thanks.

Just leave me alone, and let me run. I’m solving the world’s problems here. And I’m keeping watch over this neighborhood. And trying to avoid dogs.

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