In a world that begs for non-stop excellence, the ritual of running reshaped the understanding of my true self.
by Rio Lakeshore
It was only yesterday that I ran one of Southern California’s oldest trail races. For me, it wasn’t a race; I was only here for recreation, for the pursuit of happiness. I used this race as the “string on the finger” to reassess my love of running. The preceding months were spent mentally and physically preparing for a race that felt more focused on the end result or the competitive nature that racing can create. I have never lost sight of the beauty that surrounds me in the midst of my training, but I needed to shift my mindset and rediscover the beauty of the race itself. I’d proceed in a leisurely fashion up 3.5 miles along a climb for which the race earned its name “Bulldog,” she grips hold of you and seemingly never lets go. As I glide at a snail’s pace, she ostensibly clenched on for a lengthier time than usual.
No rubbing shoulders and kicking up dust with the speedsters ahead of me, running to the beat of my own drum. This race was intimate. I’d obtain solace reaching the top of the peak, followed by tears of joy. And I rode that sentimental moment down switchbacks, over mountains, and through a creek to the finish, a permanent smile aching my face. No podium standing, no cash prizes—only the reward of contentment for being what I am: a runner, an earth empath, a recreationalist.
Photos by Rio Lakeshore and Ben Rayner.
Day and night had surrendered, and the sun was beginning to paint East Los Angeles with its vibrant first light. My innate alarm awoke me out of slumber for another day of routine and practice. Every morning, I wash my sins away by drinking more water than most folks drink in a day; sight still blurry with morning eyes. Reflecting in silence aids in the transition as I slip into my favorite 3″ shorts and lace up my shoes for another day of meditation in motion. Much to my chagrin, today was different. I was less than a mile in, my leg locked up, and a numbing pain shot up in a domino effect from my hamstring to my glute. I hadn’t been in excruciating pain like this since I suffered a hairline fracture some years ago. After no days off and 3000 odd miles of running for the year, was this it?
I’d be disingenuous if I said this experience didn’t result in sorrow. All the miles I’ve expended galloping across landscapes both familiar and remote, always running freely, suffering nothing more than a few aching muscles. The power of my mind always far outweighed the niggling I had been reluctant to acknowledge. Now, my body had reached its tipping point. I felt heartbroken that I had betrayed my own physicality in the pursuit of excellence. Running is my primary source of wellness, my meditation, my daily dance. My ego was the undercurrent pulling me into uncharted waters, a riptide of emotion. All I could do was float with the undertide. My ego had to drown for me to reshape my devotion to movement.
Running is one of the most elegant dances, particularly when performed off the beaten path; I began to brainstorm ways to adjust without compromising the grace of movement within my daily ritual. In this time, away from heavy volume running, I had the privilege to feel my body. Performing stretches and isolated movements to discover what aggravated the pain and what seemed to have no impact. Skipping rope (a previously rare occurrence for me) became a source of euphoria. The repetitive movement in place is equally mesmerizing and mundane but thankfully causes no discomfort. Running can take up so much space, and the space I craved was no longer accessible. I had to learn to create my own sense of freedom; thus, avoiding the suffocating feeling of confinement. Doing the miles without covering the distance. The weighted nylon rope cut through the air, keeping my own beat akin to the cadence of running. The hypnotic whoosh before kissing the concrete has the illusion of slow motion. Still, it requires speed and accuracy to maintain a mindful presence.
I have long associated running with the ancestral desire for survival. This instinctual human movement kept us safe and nourished. It wasn’t until a recent inward journey that I fully understood how my movements, our movements, were a depiction of our true selves, and running is only one element of that.
I ruminate on the “Chop wood, carry water” Zen Kōan, as calloused hands grip, arms swing, core lifts, a momentous pass of cast iron. In the moment, feeling only the movement and nothing else. A weighted extension of self under the infinite blue sky.
When that flow state is broken, and I feel the urge to reset, the balance board, although forever wavering, grounds me. The warm Santa Ana winds dictate the ebb and flow as I’m transported by the sounds of a spiritualist jazz Swamini.
Running is one of the most elegant dances, particularly when performed off the beaten path.
Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm. The Mantra uttered between each punch, slip, jab, and hook. Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm. I’m prompted to mind my breathing. Inhale; exhale on the strike. Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm. 1 jab, 2 right cross, 3 left hook, 4 right hook, 5 left hook, 6 right uppercut.
Blinded by the violent nature, people fail to see the beauty behind the dance.
Each element individually could not gratify me; however, the curated combination of movement bestowed a compound akin to my love of running.
Based in Los Angeles, Rio Lakeshore is a writer, not an influencer, and ritual runner. He is a mindfulness and spiritual advocate, and he enjoys coaching those just getting into running.
Edited by Rey Joaquin. Featured photos courtesy of Rio Lakeshore.