Running Is an Inherent Good
Mike Stavlund is a pastor, writer, professor and father. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia. He is the author of A Force of Will: The Reshaping of Faith in a Year of Grief.
MIKE STAVLUND: I’m Mike Stavlund. I’m a pastor, I’m a writer, I’m a professor and a father. I’m 45 years old and I live in Falls Church, Virginia.
I didn’t like running a lot as a kid. It was sort of a thing that was forced on us in grade school, and junior high, and high school. But I started to love running when I had this job — I was managing apartment buildings and I was always meeting with people to try to rent them apartments. So I was walking around in the D.C. heat all during the day and trying not to sweat and look unappealing. But at 5 o’clock I started this practice where I would just go running and then it didn’t matter what I looked like or what it felt like. It didn’t matter what the weather was, whether it was raining or hot or cold. It was, for me, a way to just jump into the world and let it come at me with whatever it had.
One of the things I love about it is that it’s not mental. There’s not a lot of things that I find that happen in my mind. In that sense I think I learned about meditation through running instead of learning about meditation through studying meditation.
So much of my life is my mind just buzzing, and busy, and worried about a lot of stuff. I’m needing to accomplish things and worry about things, but when I’m running I can kind of get away from that. And I just I’m in my body, with all of its limitations, but with all of its capabilities at the same time. And I think that integration works as well with my spiritual goals. I’m so limited in so many ways. I’m so not the person that I want to be, but I’m capable of slowly, gradually becoming something later, that I’m not now.
My son had struggled for his whole life — four months of life — with some really serious cardiac limitations. And so running for me then was a way of experiencing some of that.
It’s emotional to remember that. But, yeah.
I remember just being out on these runs in our hilly neighborhood and feeling so hot, like I couldn’t catch a breath and feeling like I was really out of shape, because I hadn’t really been running regularly before that. And just realizing, gosh, this is what his life was like. So it was cathartic in that sense and it was a way for me to just kind of taste some of what that was like. I was tempted to just go full bore and try to run myself into the ground. Because I realized me running as hard as I can isn’t even as hard as it was for him to just lay in his bed, and try to keep up with all these cardiac inefficiencies. So it definitely was a way for me to connect with him, and do so almost retroactively, because when he was alive it was too much for me to think about all that. I needed to just do what I had to do to care for him and to try to help him make it to his next day.
My kids are starting to want to run and I’m excited about that because they just like it because it’s just running. I teach ethics and we talk about — in ethics, we talk about instrumental goods versus inherent goods. Like, there are things that we do because they get us to another thing. Some people run because it helps burn calories and helps them lose weight or whatever. But for me running is an inherent good. It’s good in and of itself. It’s essentially beneficial.
So I’m excited because my kids are starting to be like, “I want to go running,” and there’s no reason — they don’t have a reason to run. They’re not training for something or trying to — they just want to go running and it’s just an enjoyable, inherent part of being human. So they’re starting to, and my wife and I are trying to find ways to interact with all their paces and all that stuff. They want to have it happen the way they want it to happen, but it’s more fun for us.