Book review written by ATRA member Laura Clark and originally published in the Fall 2017 edition of our Trail Times newsletter.
The Tao of Running: Your Journey to Mindful and Passionate Running, by Gary Dudney. Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2016.
The keys to The Tao of Running are contained in the subtitle: journey, mindful and passionate. Journey reflects the process, not the mechanical act; mindful denotes awareness; passionate gives joy and purpose. For Gary Dudney, a long-time contributor to publications such as UltraRunner and Runner’s World, and 100 mile specialist in his own right, the act of running is so much more than the coveted belt buckle. When all is said and done, what we remember are the experiences along the way and not the hardware.
Runners often comment upon the letdown after completing a milestone event, one for which they trained hard and long. Why should that be? After all, you have achieved your goal and should feel more than a fleeting sense of satisfaction. According to Dudney, what you are grieving is the loss of the journey leading to that result. All the miles, all the friendships solidified, all the planning is so much more than the final outcome. And if you fall short, which is at times inevitable, you can still cherish the process which has strengthened your body and expanded your mind.
Mindful is rapidly becoming an overused buzzword in today’s society. No activity is safe from mindfulness. There is mindful eating, mindful investing, and our library even offers a class in mindful meditation. I ask you—why wouldn’t meditation be mindful? Dudney’s “mindful” has to do with being in the moment, experiencing every nuance of your run rather than counting steps, lampposts or miles.
This is what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discussed in his book Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, or what we would today refer to as being “in the zone.” Think Joan Benoit Samuelson cruising through the tunnel to victory in the first women’s Olympic Marathon or the Tarahumara floating effortlessly across the desert landscape. Rather than imposing your agenda on the trail, you become part of it. You move in harmony with nature and everything becomes astoundingly easy. Dudney describes this same sensation when he lost his “self” during the Little Bighorn Race. I too, have abandoned my ego during a muddy winter effort, where otherwise sketchy terrain became pure joy. Such experiences are fleeting and memorable, cherished always.
Dudney’s plea for passionate running taps into why you are out there in the first place: to discover a better version of yourself, free from the constraints of work, family and daily obligations. On a long run especially, everyday cares slough off your workday persona and you are free to simply be present in the moment. This is the essence of why we run. So many times we are tempted to quit a hard interval workout or a tough 100 miler. But barring serious injury, a person with true passion will press onward, knowing that things might turn around. Even if initial goals fall by the wayside, there is still the journey to consider.