Running as a Form of Prayer

In the documentary 3,100: Run and Become, Shaun Martin, an elite Navajo ultrarunner, says a quote. Now, I’m not usually one for quotes but this one spoke to me back then so I wrote it down—and forgot about it. But recently, things have gotten tough; they’ve gotten tough even in regard to the one thing that I’ve always loved and that has always made things better: running. And I’ve come back to the quote.

I read it before my run today, which was supposed to be just 5k’s. After Sunday’s debacle of a run that ended up in tears, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to run. But just as soon as my feet started to tap the rhythm on the pavement of one of the small roads that lead out of my village, I started to think about the quote, and I started to, perhaps, understand it.

We run to celebrate life. We run because it’s a form of prayer.

You can go to any hogan during a ceremony and listen to a medicine man pray. But you can pray, too, through your feet, through your breath. Because running is a prayer. You’re speaking to Mother Earth with your feet, you’re breathing in Father Sky. That is a prayer. You’re telling them, you’re asking them for blessings, you’re showing them that you’re willing to work for that prayer, for those blessings.

And while you’re out there running, you learn about the land, the sky, the creator, the holy people, and you make a connection. When you make that connection, you will be a champion. You will become a warrior.

Shaun Martin, Elite Navajo Ultrarunner

When the wind blew through the trees, when the sun kissed the horizon, when the sky blazed with color, when the land became golden, when three horses in a pasture ran alongside me, when the migratory birds circled above my head,… it felt as if I belonged there with everything, as if I was a part of the air that flowed through my lungs. And when the 5k mark came, I didn’t stop running.

I ended up doing a strong 17-kilometer training run. I didn’t know how it happened but at a few points, I was flying down a small incline at 6:30 minute-mile, which happens only barely; my fastest mile was for the longest time above 9 minutes. When I stopped thinking about running and started simply existing in the motion, things worked. When I stopped considering it a training run and started to look at it as a form of prayer—to the land around me, to whatever higher existence is around us, and to my own body—things started to work out in a way I would never imagine.

Will there be more bad runs? Totally. Things are never only sunshine and rainbows. But now I know that a bad run here and there doesn’t mean all other runs are about to suck. And I know that when I run to celebrate life, when I run to pray, when I run to make a connection,… it’s so much more than just putting one foot in front of the other, and it gives me more than running a whole damn marathon just for the sake of having done it.

I hope all your good runs are the best they can be, and that all your bad runs teach you something. I hope that this quote, perhaps, helps you during these challenging times. And I hope that you always find the will to continue when the going gets tough.

Happy running, whether it’s the literal one or your journey through life itself.
Love,
—P

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