The power of running to alleviate our suffering and frailties.
Whether you're a novice runner making your way from the couch to your first 5K race, or an elite runner toeing the line at the start of the Olympic marathon, you soon discover that within the beauty of movement, there comes a point where you arrive at a mysterious boundarythe border where one valiantly tries to quiet the mind, while allaying incapacitating doubts and fears. This subtle negotiation, this dance with discomfort, is the birthplace of an inner fortitude, and it demands we keep moving when everything inside us is screaming for us to quit.
Bédard explores running's ability to nurture inner resilience and build community, and how it can help us work through the traumas of addiction, depression, or anxiety. This book is a message of strength and hope.
In addition to being a featured contributor to the Huffington Post and the writer behind the popular blog Breathe Through This (with over 2 million subscribers), Jean-Paul Bédard is a high profile endurance athlete, and a veteran of over 100 marathons and ultramarathons. A sought-after public speaker, Bédard is known for his ability to infuse humor into his talks as he speaks candidly about addiction, depression, and childhood trauma.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
In addition to being a ‘featured contributor’ to the Huffington Post and the author behind the popular blog “Breathe Through This” (with over 2 million subscribers), Jean-Paul Bédard is a high profile endurance athlete, and a veteran of over 100 marathons and ultra marathons. In 2012, he represented Canada in the prestigious Comrades Marathon in South Africa, a grueling 90km race through mountainous terrain.
Jean-Paul turned to long distance running to help him battle his addiction and mental health issues. In 2013, Jean-Paul disclosed to family and friends that he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape. Since that time, he has become an advocate for other survivors. In 2014, Jean-Paul ran the iconic Boston Marathon twice in the same day to raise funds and awareness for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
A sought-after public speaker, Jean-Paul is known for his ability to infuse humor in his talks as he speaks candidly about coming to terms with serious issues such as addiction, depression, and childhood trauma. Jean-Paul passionately believes life is not about "what happens to us", but about "what we do with what happens to us." His is a message of hope, strength, and resiliency.
Read an Excerpt
“The obsession with running is really an obsession with the potential for more and more life”.
~ George Sheehan
I think we can all agree that life moves faster with each passing day, and how
ironic that with the arrival of every modern timesaving device, we appear to be
that much further behind. Everyone seems to be desperately searching for
something, but none of us are quite sure what really is gnawing at us, the thing
that is leaving us wanting. But what if that mysterious thing we are all searching
for lay closer than we think?
There is a beautiful story from the Jewish tradition contained within the sacred
text of the Talmud. According to the scripture, when we are in our mother’s
womb, each of us is visited by an angel, and it is this angel who bestows on us all
the infinite knowledge of the universeeverything we will ever need to know on
this earth. Sadly, just before we are born into this world, the angel gives us a
gentle tap beneath our nose, thus leaving a subtle indentation on our upper lip.
This indentation is known as a philtrum, and it’s the action of this simple tap that
empties our memory of the infinite wisdom we were blessed with in utero. And
therein lies the universality in the quest of our humannessa search to breathe
anew that, which once lay inside each and every one of us.
When it comes to a metaphor for life, you’d be hard pressed to find one better
than running. There is something primal about running in that it has the power to
unlock parts of us that otherwise lie dormant, or stay nestled in the shadows. One
only need to watch the unbridled freedom of a group of children at play to witness
firsthand the joy and transformative beauty of running.
When we run, it’s as if we enter into a pact with ourselves, whereby in return for
the faith in putting one foot stoically in front of the other, we are given the
opportunity to not only move away from wherever we might be, but also if we are
so attuned, we are afforded the rare opportunity to return to that sacred part of us
that was lost in an angel’s gentle touch.
It makes no difference whether you’re a novice runner making your way from the
couch to your first 5k race, or an elite runner toeing the line at the start of the
Olympic marathon. Within the beauty of movement, every runner will inevitably
come to that mysterious point where he or she must brush up against the same
artificial boundaryThe border where one valiantly tries to quiet the mind, while
allaying incapacitating doubts and fears. This subtle negotiation, this dance with
discomfort, is the birthplace of an inner fortitude that demands we keep moving
when everything inside us is screaming for us to quit.
This is by no means a conventional book on running, in that within these pages,
you will not find training plans, dietary advice, or even strength building exercises.
In fact, most of our attention will not be on how to run farther and faster, but
instead, on how to run deeper. The first part of the book will invite you into the
world of a high profile endurance athlete, a veteran of over 100 marathons and
ultra marathons, and how running has intersected at critical times in his life to help
him overcome battles with addiction and personal trauma. We will then turn to
how running is a form of moving mediation, a means to not only relieve stress but
also unlock a wellspring of creativity. Interspersed with personal accounts from
runners around the globe, we will delve into the archeology of running and how it
has the ability to unearth what may have laid dormant inside us for years.
Next, by drawing on the latest studies in medicine and psychology, we will look
into the merits of running as a form of healing and its place alongside
pharmacology and therapy. Through real life stories of athletes who have
overcome incredible odds and adversity, we will enter into a discussion on running
as a means to strengthen our resiliency. If you stick with running long enough,
there inevitably comes a time when the wheels fall off and either injury or life
circumstances get in the way of your ability to run. In this section of the book, we
will touch upon the perennial issues of running injuries, taper madness, and that
oh so difficult task of making space for running in your life. And finally, as John
Donne said, “No man is an island”, so our discussion would be incomplete were
we not to look into the importance of building your running tribe so that you can
stay motivated and leave your positive contribution on the running community in
But most of all, I hope that within the pages of this book, you will discover much
that resonates with that part of you that may have laid quietly waiting in the
shadows, and that you will arrive at a place where running can bring an immense
sense of joy to your life. It is a journey that will take you through the pure pursuit
of the horizons of possibility within you, and beyond you.
A Moving Meditation
“My desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
There is a question that often comes up in conversation with non-runners that
rarely seems to come up in conversation with other runners; and the question is
typically phrased something like thisWhat do you think about while you’re out
there running hour after hour? Don’t you go crazy? Aren’t you bored silly?
On the surface, it seems like an innocent enough question, but it’s one that I really
have to struggle with in order to find an answer. You see, I love to run, but that’s
not really why I run. For as long as I can remember, I’ve waged at not so subtle
war trying to keep my restless, overactive mind fairly in check. To an outsider, this
internal restlessness manifests in my frenetic, and some would say manic,
My wife says that I have only two speeds: ‘hyper drive’ and ‘zonked out. If you do
manage to get me sitting in a chair for any length of time, I’ll inevitably be
twitching, fidgeting, and tapping my feet. I have stopped trying to figure out why
I’m like this because I think I’m just wired this way. Over the years, I’ve
attempted to mollify this incessant restlessness with every external means at my
disposal, most notably drugs and alcohol, and to lesser degree food. Although
each of those has offered a temporary reprieve, none has been sustainable for very
long, and truth be told, it really is a fool’s game because no matter what you do to
‘escape’ from yourself, sooner or later you are faced with having to return to that
for which you were escaping from to begin with.
As I mentioned before, I don’t consider running something I do, but rather,
something I am. And I believe it’s within this oneness with running, where I can
begin to find my answer as to what goes through my mind when I’m out on long
run. If you were to look at my training logs for the past 4 years, you would find
that I average just over 9,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) a year. That’s a lot distance
covered in the course of year, but it’s not until I work out what that equates to in
terms of a time commitment, that I begin to see how much running really does
dominate my life. In the past year alone, my cumulative time running works out
to be almost 28 days (running 24 hours/day).
One of my mantras in sobriety has been to “Keep It Simple”, and it’s a philosophy
I’ve tried to incorporate into my running life as well. You might be surprised to
learn that despite the large number of races I participate in, and all the miles I log
year after year, I do not adhere to any strict regimen or excessive training
program. My training consists of two very fundamental principles: attempt to log
as many miles as possible in such a way to avoid injury, and incorporate tempo
bursts and hills into at least 2 runs per week. Other than that, there is no mystery
to my trainingno drills on the track, no soul-destroying hill repeats, and no
obsession with lactic threshold and heart rate zones.
I discovered early on in my running career that the greatest threat to sabotaging a
workout or missing a workout entirely, more often than not comes from within.
Let’s be honest, there is always something that can get in the way of you getting
out the door or heading to the gym. Modern life is an intricate dance of balancing
work, family, and social schedules; and when push comes to shove, inevitably it’s
our commitment to exercise that falls by the wayside. A way to avoid succumbing
to that daily internal dialogue of ‘do I’ or ‘don’t I’ have time for my workout, is to
eliminate the possibility for that question to enter your consciousness to begin with.
I have found that exercising first thing in the morning is the only time of the day
when I can be absolutely sure that nothing else will get in the way or demand my
attention. On weekdays, the alarm wakes me up at 4:30 am, and I quickly get
dressed and head out the door for my run through the streets of Toronto. Before
heading to bed each night, I check out what the weather forecast will be for my
run so that I can lay out the proper running gear for my workout. You know what
they say, “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” I’m not going to lie to you;
there are most definitely some nasty mornings in the dark cold of winter when my
brain is racing with a million and one excuses for staying snuggled up in my warm
comfy bed. Over the years, I can probably count the number of times on one
hand that I’ve succumbed to that urge and stayed in bed, but on each of those
occasions, I was racked with guilt the entire day for not going out on my run.
In the previous chapter, I discussed my somewhat rebellious aversion to running
with an iPod or other music device, and my thinking behind that has a lot to do
with getting to the heart of my answer as to what goes through my mind when I’m
running. I started running competitively about 16 years ago, right around the
time I entered a treatment program for alcohol addiction. At first, running merely
provided a much-needed new outlet for me to not only get physically healthy but
also mentally grounded. What I didn’t know at the time was that running would
evolve into a spiritual practice in my life. Running has been the only thing that
I’ve ever found that can quiet my mind and provide me the space, or distance to
process whatever life throws at me during the rest of the day.
Even though I don’t have any music being piped directly into my ears via ear
buds, it’s not to say that I am not being constantly serenaded by the natural
rhythms emanating from the streets, alleyways, and ravines of Toronto. The lack
of traffic on my early morning runs affords me the opportunity to run through the
streets rather unencumbered by the increasing number of cars that clog our
roadways for much of the latter part of the day.
On my early morning runs, I enter into an almost organic relationship with the
pulse that underlies the breath of our city. I feel the vibrations of the streetcars
grinding their way along the main arteries; I hear the faint echoes resonating
through the narrow corridors of the downtown buildings as the trucks lower there
steel ramps to make their pre-dawn deliveries; and the nearer I get to the lake, the
more I’m greeted by the waves crashing into the breakwall or lapping up onto the
But more importantly, because my mind is free of distraction and open to
everything around me and inside of me, I’m intimately attuned to the cadenced
sounds of the changing seasonsThe playful screeches of the litters of baby
raccoons in spring, the humidity-induced rumblings of the thunder off in the
distance in the summer, the crinkly shuffling of the blowing and fallen leaves in the
autumn, and the crisp crunch of the ice and snow under foot in the darkness of
Because running has grown to become the essence of who I am, no matter where I
travel, it is always with me. When I close my eyes and think of all the places I’ve
travelled to, my mind wanders back to the symphony of sounds of the battling car
horns in midtown Manhattan, the haunting wind whistling through the massive
pines in northern France, the plaintive eagerness of the roosters' sing-song in rural
South Africa, and most recently, the guttural mooing of cattle in pastoral England.
So, returning to the question‘What goes through your mind when you’re
running?’I would have to say the answer is in and of itself another way of
phrasing the question‘What doesn’t go through my mind when I’m running?’
For many of us, running has a way of bringing us back to the beginning. It
recalibrates us. It silences us, and it calms us. There mere syncopation of our
movement, combined with the opportunity for us to truly connect with ourselves
through our breath, allows us to step back from the torment of that ever-present
‘To-Do List’, and in the process, find that place inside us to simple ‘be’ us.
It is interesting to note that the psychological benefits of exercise in terms of an
enhanced feeling of well-being, are rarely felt during the exercise itself, but rather,
it’s not until the return from this practice that we appreciate the space we cleared
inside us. There is some kind of alchemy that takes place when we push our body
outside of its physical comfort zone and enlist our muscles and aerobic system.
After a prolonged hiatus from exercise, people often say things like, “I need to get
back to the gym so I can burn off some this stress” or “I’m looking forward to
getting back at it so I can clear out some the cobwebs in my head.” And when you
think about, isn’t that what physical exertion is all aboutThe opportunity to
grease the axel and keep our engine humming along.
Much has been written about the physical benefits of a sustained exercise regimen,
and considering our society’s obsession with body image and weight loss, that’s not
all that surprising. You may not even realize this, but for whatever reason you
started running: to lose weight, to maintain a healthier lifestyle, or even to meet
new people, the greatest benefit may be something far less tangiblea vast
improvement to your overall mental health. Don’t believe me? Take a look at a
runner who has been forced to take some serious downtown as a result of an
injury. I guarantee you’ll find a squirrelly, irritable, and at times, inconsolable
athlete. So what’s really going on there, and how is it possible that a reduction in
physical exertion has such overt psychological manifestations?
Like so many of the runners I know, I initially took up running as means to
manage stress, in my case, learning to live a life free of drugs and alcohol. The
irony is not lost on me that in order for me to ‘reduce my stress’ I gravitated to a
sport that can have a significant physical toll on the body. I knew there must be
easier, and to a great degree, less expensive ways to alleviate stress, but having
found many of them to be lacking, I desperately hung on to running because even
though I had no idea how it worked, it appeared to be working.
In the ensuing years of my sobriety, I’ve toyed with incorporating a meditation
practice into my day because the idyllic image of sitting serenely in lotus position
and truly getting in touch with my breath fills me with such promise. The reality is
that meditation requires patience, something that, as anyone who knows me would
agree, is definitely in short supply in my life. Having said that, there is no denying
that once adopted as a part of your lifestyle, meditation can be among the most
liberating experiences you will ever find. Meditation is freeing, in that it has
nothing to do with bringing anything into your life, and everything to do with
learning to sit with whatever thought passes through you.
By helping to silence all the white noise around and inside us, meditation in its
purest form is a process of literally ‘being brought to your own attention’. The
challenge lies in learning to be comfortable coming face-to-face with those toxic
stowaways that lie within us: the self-criticism, doubts, and fears that have an
invisible hand in all that we do. The rewards for cultivating this focused attention
and abstract awareness are the joy, empathy, and compassion that begin to
displace the stress we carry within us.
Moreover, the leading researchers in the field of neuroscience have made
significant discoveries as of late, which point out how meditation can, for lack of a
better word, ‘rewire’ the brain. For the first time in the history of modern
psychology, there appears to be hope that the impacts of embedded trauma and
neuroses can be significantly curtailed, if not completely eliminated. According to
Table of Contents
Preface: brief overview of book and why every year, more and more people are turning to running
My Life on the Run: an autobiographical account of how running has intersected with my life
A Moving Meditation: background psychology on the healing and transformative power of “moving mediation”
— the spiritual connection
— what goes through your mind when you’re on a run (addressing the perennial question: Are you bored out there?)
— the connection between physical exertion and stress reduction
— honing your focus through running and running as an outlet for restless energy
— oneness and the opportunity to “disappear” from “self”, while at the same — time connect to yourself
— running’s effect on unlocking creativity
Running As Archeology
— unearthing memories
— finding the space for reflection
— reinventing yourself
— the “I am responsible” pact
Running Versus Pharmacology & Therapy
— are you “running away from something” or “running towards something”?
— the effect of exercise on mood and wellbeing
— the "runner’s high" explained
Running: A Resiliency Boot Camp
— running through grief & trauma
— running through addiction (why are there so many recovering addicts in the running community?)
— pushing the boundaries of endurance and your comfort zone
What if the wheels fall off?
— the reality of injuries
— striking the life balance
— taper madness (it’s real thing)
— running and food disorders
— confronting waning motivation
Running & Building Your Tribe
— social aspects of running (the pros and cons)
— the role of social media
— the runner’s mantra of “paying it forward”
— the “take-away”
— why aren’t you running?