American poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Sexton suffered debilitating mental illness her entire life. She was in and out of mental institutions and on and off psychiatric drugs. Mental illness didn’t stop Sexton from writing books on poetry and other works that appeared in prestigious publications like Harper’s and the New Yorker. Sexton said that poetry was the only thing that kept her alive.
I’m not the most cultured person. There had been times I read a poem and got brain freeze, the kind you get when you jam a quart of ice cream down your gob in sixty seconds. But I keep reading poetry because of some crazy notion that it enriches my life. Maybe it waters my brain, the same way I water my garden. I can’t see my green beans or brussel sprouts grow day to day, and have no idea what the hell my carrots and potatoes are doing down there, but I still water them because there is a miracle every summer when I pull the ferns out of the dirt and these big, delicious vegetables that nourish my body are on the end waiting to be eaten. A miracle, year after year.
Billy Collins, American Poet Laureate of the United States 2001-2003, said: “I don’t think people read poetry because they’re interested in the poet. I think they’re read poetry because they’re interested in themselves.”
Sexton’s sentiment about the way poetry sustained her is similar to how I look at running. Some people are as mystified when I explain to them why I run as I am when I read poetry or water my garden. I run because it makes me feel good, it nourishes my body and my mind. My body feels sanctified when it is immersed in perspiration, my mind clears and ideas flow while pounding the trail. And I’m not alone. You runners know what I’m talking about.
Running guru George Sheehan used to talk reverently about the hour run; that he found something magical in it. The beauty of the hour run isn’t tied to distance; rather, it is based on moving the body for sixty minutes. If you are a beginner or not a runner at all, gradually work your way up to moving your body for an hour. Begin with fifteen or twenty minutes, with a goal of reaching an hour by Memorial Day, or by the end of the year. Don’t sweat it, you’ll get there. If you are a beginner, alternate between walking and running, and if you are a walker you can walk and then take a short jog. Just stick with it and build the endurance to keep your body in motion for an hour.
Once you are able to move your body in a forward motion for one hour without stopping something magical happens. You free yourself, and reap incalculable benefits for the body; you liberate your mind. Sound corny? Probably, but trust me—it works. If you build up the stamina for an hour run, or walk, there is a good chance you will never give it up. It will energize you, stimulate you, and it will become the most important part of your day.
Running is poetry in motion, and it can save your life. You will become one healthy and happy soul.