The Ritual of Running by Denby Royal
Denby is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist with a long history in the fashion industry. She is a believer in slow food, slow fashion, and sustained movement. Her purpose is to bridge the gap between food and fashion and educate about the importance of how clothing effects the functionality and flow of the human body and the planet.
Whatever, thunder thighs.
When a particularly nasty boy in junior high said this to me, my worst fear was actualized. According to my teenage brain my dysmorphic thighs and posterior already jiggled a bit when I ran, I mean I could feel them, but to discover that the momentum generated by my lower extremities moving in various ways was actually AUDIBLE? Not just loud, but thunderous. The worst.
Or how about the time in grade school when I was sitting in the back of a car with a couple of girlfriends and one remarks, "Hey Denby, isn't it funny how neither of our thighs touch when we sit down, but all of your's do?" Hilarious. I’m still laughing.
As early as I can remember, my body has been incredibly good at storing fat on the lower segment of my body. It has such an uncanny ability to preserve adipose tissue at lightning speed that if I wasn't sure, I'd think it was trying to show off every time I put on a pair of shorts —either the hem moonlights as a rubber band tightly bound across my thighs or I am in a constant battle to keep my shorts from riding up past my belly button and exposing /ma derrière/ in it’s entirety.
What does this have to do with running? Everything. Because I want you to continue reading this post with the clear visual of my thunderous gams running gloriously and joyously down the beach bursting out of a pair of shorts. There. Got it? Good. From the get go, I have always loved running. Most of my life I was told that my body-type was not meant to run. That big hips and short legs aren't designed for dashing or galloping. "But it feels so good" my legs would say! Running is the perfect sport for me: I can do it alone, outside, and I’m not expected to stop and talk to people. Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, put it best: “I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.”
Running is a form of active meditation. It’s a chance to get outside no matter where I am in the world, and focus on my breath, my body, and how I need to physically interact with my surrounding. As opposed to walking, where I find I can easily zone out without needing to concentrate on where I am going, running demands adaptation to the environment and context. Is there a hill you need to adjust your speed to climb or descend? Maybe there is a perfect rock in your path to jump over. How about the temperature? Is it warmer than normal and you need to tune into your breath as to not over heat? While the need for adaptation is being met, my mind is clear and focused. I experience an internal rush of fresh oxygen that exhilarates my cells. I also rarely run with music. I find it a distraction. I would rather hear the wind, the waves from the ocean as I approach the shore, or even the sounds of the city.
Over the years my running itself has changed. I have gone from wobbling side to side expending more energy than necessary while striking the earth with my heels in heavy shoes to a more streamlined posture to conserve energy with a realigned gate that emphasized landing on the balls of my feet and using my Achilles tendon as a spring to carry me forward. I run (and do everything else) in a barefoot-style shoe when the terrain deems necessary, or barefoot when I am in the forest or on the beach. Fun fact: I recently found out that instead of stacking my hips on top of my femurs, I have been positioning them on the other edges of the bone. This inefficient placement would leave me gasping for air earlier because my body wasn’t advancing in the most proficient form. Once I started implementing the necessary adjustments, my pace and velocity improved —Although my arms still flap about more than my coach (i.e. my love) would like. The movement itself is an intrinsic component to the ritual. With the proper movement comes the bona fide breath. Where there is bona fide breath the mind is freed of excessive chatter.
The terrain has also evolved. It has gone from the Mediterranean coast to Italian canals and to a city that I rarely ran in because I found it so uninspiring. To now, where I can run by the sea with the salty air and dip my toes in the vast and briny drink. My thunderous thighs are in heaven.
This ritual is also in an active evolution. Now I am trying to increase my distance as opposed to in the past, just speed and intensity. My current journey is about maintaining constant momentum for hours at a time and addressing an apathetic attitude when it rumbles up. Just like when I sit and meditate my active meditation is founded on not pushing passed pain or discomfort but harmonizing with it. I locate the nucleus of my nuance, pull it aside and look right at it. I stare it down with my inner eye and take it along for a thunderous ride.