The Sanctity of Sweat

“My fitness program was never a fitness program. It was a campaign, a revolution, a conversion. I was determined to find myself, and in the process found my body and the soul that went with it.” – George Sheehan

I first read Running & Being by George Sheehan when I was a young man–say, like my mid-forties. In his book, the running guru talked about the hour run as if it was a religious ritual, or what I call the Sanctity of Sweat–immersed in perspiration, endorphins flowing, the mind free of troubles, stress dissipating like pollen through the air.

Big Sky above rows of corn on a Bucks County farm.

Big Sky above rows of corn while running by a Bucks County farm.

Among the most common reasons runners give to explain why they run is to shed weight or to improve physical condition. Sheehan put it in more simple terms when he wrote, “A runner runs because he has to.” Never once have I heard a runner say he runs to find his soul, yet more than a few runners have told me they feel more connected with their inner-self, their spirit, during a long run than at any other time. I believe running goes beyond a fitness program for those runners who connect with their spirit and becomes the lifelong campaign that Sheehan describes.

Long uphill on Bucks County country road.

Long uphill on Bucks County country road.

Last week I found spirituality running the beach, and this week I connected with my inner-spirit on country roads in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, running alongside farms, majestic livestock, elegant equine. In my lifetime I’ve been in touch with my spirit running through the Rocky Mountains, the beach in Big Sur, the plains of Iowa, at the top of Heartbreak Hill, Town Lake in Austin, Texas, on inner-city streets and parks. And that is the beauty of running, all you need is to do is lace up a pair of running shoes and leave the rest to the universe.

Sheehan also said, “Running is a runner’s work of art.” I take it one step further. To me, running is a medium to express yourself physically and to show appreciation for your health, nature, and the blessing of being alive.

Wildflowers perk up a wild run.

Wildflowers perk up a wild run.

When I sit down to write and find myself paralyzed between the ears, when the words just don’t come, the long run never fails to break the creativity logjam. Joyce Carol Oates, prolific author of more than forty novels, says, “When running, the mind flies with the body; the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain.” Oates also says, “If there’s any activity happier, more exhilarating, more nourishing to the imagination, I can’t think of what it might be. In running the mind flees with the body, the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms.”

I’m not so naive to think runners are the only human beings able to tap their inner-self–their spirit. People who meditate, practice yoga, perform the arts, work with their hands–woodworkers, iron workers, cement finishers–those who use their intellectual talents, and those who serve humanity, can all tap their spirit by exercising their abilities.

Our goal in life is to find the medium that is uniquely yours to express yourself, and perfect it. It will change you, and everyone you touch.

Oasis at the top of a hill.

Oasis at the top of a hill.


About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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