When I think of art, I usually think of physical items such as pictures, architecture, pottery, and such, but then I started trail running and my idea of art expanded to incorporate motions. I realize the idea of an exercise movement being classified as art sounds like a stretch (no pun intended), but this actually isn’t new. Ballerinas use their bodies as a way to express a piece of art, yet it’s also a great form of exercise that many partake in to stay fit. The same goes for aerial silks. Movement both internalizes and projects feelings, much like painting a portrait does- there’s just a bit more sweat involved.
If you don’t believe me, listen to an ultra trail runner talk about their craft- why they do what they do. Many ultra runners take on 50 mile races on mountainous courses. Though this may sound like torture to outsiders, they do it in order to create a particular feeling. When they move like gazelles through wooded areas or when they perfect their running stride and feel connected to the earth and the environment that surrounds them on their running courses, that’s when running becomes an art form to them. In my own personal experience, when I’m having a good run I’m emotionally moved. I’m sure when a ballerina, amateur or not, nails her routine, she is also emotionally moved.
But what about those runs that make you feel awful? That just crush your spirits and make you want to hang up those running shoes for good? How can those be classified as art? Well, if you’ve read a good poem I think you know that art can break our hearts. Especially the artist’s heart. You can spend hours and hours photographing a landscape or an event and never find that one amazing still that fills you with happiness. It’s in those moments that art becomes more of a burden than a blessing, but those are the moments that make you a stronger photographer because you learn from them. The same goes for runners. In the darkest of runs, you’re still building your strength for the next run. You learn to work on your motions- the stomp of the foot, the swing of the arm- and you correlate them to the depth of your breath. You find out how each piece moves, and learn how to create harmony between them in order to create the perfect run.
When I watch runners, I see passion, I see resilience, and I see heart. The same as when I watch a painter paint. And I’m not just referring to races. Some of the greatest, most art-inducing runs occur when one laces up their shoes, and heads out for the trails for some much needed relief. Next time you’re walking in the woods or hiking a trail and you see a runner, pay attention to their movements, the way they perfectly place their feet between rocks while pumping their fists. A lot of work goes into that. A lot of mindfulness and artistry goes into forming a great run. Then, try to imagine what they’re thinking and feeling. Many run to alleviate the pain of the day or to figure out a problem. I know someone who goes for a run whenever he has a big decision to make because by the end of it, he has his answer.
Maybe running is more about the artist than the spectator, but could that be due to lack of appreciation? Or lack of understanding of the sport? When you think about Usain Bolt, how much of his running do you truly understand? And how much of it is just based on a time? I believe the biggest disconnect between physical art and movement art is the relation and understanding of the viewers. Though the majority of us are not painters, we can still appreciate the beauty of a painting. With movement, it’s different. The vast majority of people are bored by ballets because it’s hard to understand movement art if you do not have a background knowledge of it. If you’re not a runner, how can you understand the mechanics and the emotions that make it art? It’s difficult to see it for what it truly is or to understand the positive emotions it instills in the self. It wasn’t until I started trail running that I was able to see it as art. I encourage each one of you to take an afternoon and go for a little run. Feel the pain and the anguish, but don’t stop because eventually you break past that and things start to fall into place. That’s when you get that feeling of amazement and that’s when it turns into art.
“I’m not saying being a runner makes you better than anyone else, but one thing is for sure. Running makes you different. You begin to understand the connection between your feet and the ground. You start to believe in the beauty of unfiltered conversation. You learn that you have to face your deepest demons on 10 mile runs when no one else is around. You become the wind. You love to high five your rivals, the people who just beat you. You learn that your mind and body must coexist in a healthy relationship. So no, running does not make you special. But it sure as hell wakes you up.” – Unknown