Carissa Liebowitz on how running, and physical challenge in general, expands our comfort zone to share ourselves with others.

Carissa Liebowitz (at right, in the purple shirt)

‘Running is a safe space… we can scrape the barrel of our souls and go back to our regular lives without repercussion.’

If left to our own devices with free time and adequate resources, what would we choose to do?

While in Nepal recently, en route to reach the starting line of the Everest Marathon, I found such happiness in trekking daily, falling asleep at 7:30 p.m., and no agenda other than to take in the beautiful scenery and move my body.

It helped, of course, to be led by someone else. To not have to give any thoughts about where I was going, how I was going to find food or shelter, or what I needed to do to prepare for the next day.

But if I shake away the potential complications, I am left with how I like living. Using my body for moderate work pretty much all day with periods of adequate rest, time for reflection, minimal internet connectivity, and at peace.

I think about the things that some people would find moderately uncomfortable and those are the things I enthusiastically embraced. Crawling into my sleeping bag with a layer of dust. Surprise meals prepared in a traditional way. Rest days with light hiking.

In much of the first world, we have evolved to live in a 72° environment with infrequent activity. Our biggest challenges are keeping our inboxes clear and deciding what’s for dinner.

I like the idea of hiking for a long period of time. As a sense of accomplishment, yes, but also, as a sense of being in nature for extended periods of time. And of course, the reality of not dealing with the day-to-day is ultimately appealing. No bills, no housework and no commuting.

I wonder about the lack of communication if I were solo. I came to truly enjoy the camaraderie of breaking bread or unpacking a life story during a shared experience.

Snippets of dark life moments came out and these are the kind of things that you trust to people that you share a close and physical experience with. I heard more recently that these are evolutionary behaviors — the strenuousness of the physical breaks down the filters of social norms.

When we sit in a comfortable space without struggle, our inclination is to hide these things away. Even in our close friendship circles or family, our darker secrets are not shared. Perhaps because of the fragility of the relationship?

But if there is nothing to lose, it becomes easy to unload the burdens on a stranger. Our relationship could be nothing at best and that wouldn’t change the state of affairs. But it could strengthen our bond and push us to outcomes we’ve only dreamed of.

Friendships forged over miles of running are built on the same foundation. The higher the level of suffering, the more it seems we are willing to open up and offer the true versions of ourselves.

I’ve found that I’m the most authentic version of myself in the midst of a long training run or deep into a tough race. The things I might caution myself from sharing with a non-running friend over coffee suddenly fall easily out of my mouth when my legs are tired and my heart rate is high.

While running, I might be more apt to open up about my struggles with my husband’s multiple sclerosis battle or share my very undecided thoughts on spirituality.

I’ll give you all the details about my eating disorder in high school and losing my job, 15 years into my career. Running is my safe space. There is an unspoken notion that we can scrape the barrel of our souls and go back to our regular lives without repercussion.

It’s not just me either. The skeletons (and treasures!) slip out of my running friends’ closets too. Many of them I know on a more personal level after just a few runs than some friends I’ve known half of their lifetimes.

As we dig a little deeper physically, we dig a little deeper psychologically and in the discomfort of our bodies, we somehow find our comfort zone.

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