On this eve of Yom Kippur, I began to think about whether running is a religion. No, seriously.
It all started when I thought about whether I was going to fast tomorrow. On one hand, even for secular Jews, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, to be respected and observed. On the other hand, I am in the midst of training for the NYC Marathon coming up on November 7, and I should be concentrating on eating carbohydrates tomorrow, in preparation for my 18 mile long-run on Sunday.
But it doesn’t stop there. Like various religions, which dictate what foods you can and can’t eat, and when you can eat them, running is analogous. Jews can’t eat pork or shellfish, Hindus can’t eat beef, and runners should have a high carbohydrate, low fat diet. Runners should avoid simple sugars like white bread and candy, and focus on whole grains, brown rice and vegetables. Protein is also advised for a speedy recovery after a long run.
Judeo-Christian faiths believe that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day God rested. Thus, Jews have designated Saturday as the holy day of rest, and Christians have Sunday. The remainder of the week is for work, or at least not for rest. So too, with running, our training schedule designates certain days for speedwork, tempo runs, easy runs and, yes, days of rest. Though God may not have created our training program, rest is an integral and necessary part.
To the chagrin of many runners, we must cut down on drinking alcohol when formally training for a long race. We follow this rule to ensure that we are able to train to 100% of our ability, without the negative effects of alcohol. We say “No” to our friends who go out for drinks on Friday nights, and instead run past the bustling nightlife to keep up with our training. Religions regulate alcohol heavily too – it is forbidden in Islam, as it is for the Mormons, and alcohol plays a very particular role for Jews and Christians’ ceremonies.
Tomorrow is the Jewish day of atonement, and runners also have their sins to confess, although not in a booth – I admit that I missed my long run last weekend, and generally don’t stretch enough after my runs.
Running also dictates the clothes we wear. In synagogue I wear a kippah, and I remove my shoes to enter a monastery. Some devout Islamic women wear burqas; and bishops, cardinals and monks wear robes. Some of these items are useful, and they all have meaning. On the run, we wear running shoes to protect our feet. We wear non-cotton clothing in order to wick moisture away from our bodies, which helps maintain our temperature in extreme weather. People may say the payes on Hasidic Jews look funny, but it serves an important purpose for them. For runners, in the winter, men and women both wear tights.
If religion has a goal – to understand creation, to reach heaven, or to be good to thy neighbor, then my Nirvana is crossing the finish line on November 7.
If running is a religion, I pray for an easy fast…run.
What’s YOUR Religion?
(Oh, and runners don’t have wars over the Faith – whether you can run 1 mile or 30, all are welcome).