Zen and the Art of Running - Book Review

Running and Zen principles (mindfulness, the middle way, right effort, and impermanence)mesh well together.

Often beginning runners find themselves disassociating while they run -- thinking of anything they can but running. As runners progress, they inevitably find themselves in a state of association -- they are interested in what their body is doing, how things feel, and the emotions associated with those feelings. Thrown into the mix, regardless of our running level is the pain, the runner's eternal pal.

I put off reading Zen and the Art of Running: The Path to Making Peace with Your Pace because I expected it would be a little too preachy for me... a little too, here's how a buddhist master runs while meditating on the eight fold path. I was dead wrong. This book is a fantastic peak into ways to utilize your mind to enjoy running even more.

The content leans heavily towards motivational and pre-running issues in the first sections (think getting out the door, environmental factors, family issue).

The book hit its stride for me as it delved into applying Zen concepts while training and racing. I've always felt that during some runs I've been able to enter the "zone", where the run ends before you know it and the miles melt away inside your mind. There have also been my attempts at being mindful, at practicing sensing how much muscles react from an outsiders perspective. This book provided me more formalized and introspective ways of assessing myself.

In a fairly obvious sense, running is life made small. A run has a beginning and an end. There are obstacles to overcome, good days and bad days.

How's that for breaking down running into its most primal form?

Speaking of primal -- pain -- the black and white of life, the unavoidable suffering that comes with running fast. How does one handle the pain, how to befriend it and be mindful of it, while still being a bystander? The book helps with all of these concepts in a clear and reflective manner.

While uncovering the resentment you’ve held toward your mother might take years of self-inspection or the assistance of a therapist, there’s nothing subtle about pain. Pain does not camouflage itself like a green caterpillar on a blade of grass. It does not try to disguise itself as something harmless or pleasant. It is what it is and there’s no mistaking it.

There are even some basic training principles the book touches on. This isn't Jack Daniel's Running Formula, or the Lore of Running here, but the book does take a look at Short Hard training, Long Slow training, and the in between (middle way). There is a very pragmatic approach preached that should comfort all but the most scientific oriented runners.

And, if you like running, long distances provide you with more of what you like. Of course, you must draw a line somewhere. You might like chocolate cake too, but this doesn’t mean the more the better. Eventually you’ll find your chocolate cake limit, and with luck others won’t be around to see the results.

If you find yourself interested in the mental side of running, I'd highly recommend the read.

If you've read it, what did you think? Any suggestion for other books of this type?