By Sara Stover
May 12, 2019
Originally Featured on http://www.runnerclick.com
I let go
Into the best expression
I Am of who I Am…
This one precious life,
To dream, to love,
To believe In myself,
Below these simple but profound words is a photo of the poet, catching a wave. These aren’t just the outstretched arms of a surfer trying to find balance. These are the arms of an Ironman athlete. These are the arms of soul runner Patrick Baker, opening his heart to the world.
the spirituality of the run
“For me being a soul runner is just breathing and being in the present moment, opening my heart and lungs to the Soul of the World,” Patrick explains. A self-proclaimed runner of routine, he is inclined to seek and experience something different in every run. In otherwise commonplace workouts, Patrick finds a tropical flower here, a rock altar there, clouds drifting overhead, bird song everywhere, and in doing so, connects to the world’s soul.
As a surfer, Patrick understands a practice that many runners could use a lesson in: The art of making the effort to paddle out and then… wait. No one can force the waves to come. But when they do, those in tune with the ocean are ready. Many surfers are conscious of the spirituality of this experience. The soul runner is equally conscious of the spirituality of the run.
“Each run is indeed a holy sacrament. An offering of joy that my body can move in this way,” says Patrick. “On some runs I find myself uplifted by inspiration, by vision. On other runs, I purge my emotions and feelings.”
Soul surfer and sole brother Joe Barcia echoes this sentiment of the connection between spirituality and running. In his early twenties, Joe moved to Hawaii Island in a period of uncertainty in his life. He surfed and ran his way through that season.
“For me, today, running and growing spiritually are as intertwined as two lovers who share a deep connection. They are one and the same,” Joe points out. “My daily runs take me into the trees, grasslands, and natural lava formations of the lower Puna district of Hawaii. I rarely encounter anyone on these runs.”
When he’s ready to turn around, Joe often pauses, lingering long enough to appreciate the morning sun, the formation of the clouds, a rainbow, or the grandness of Maunakea (a very tall and fortunately dormant volcano in Hawaii). In those moments, he finds that gratitude flows easily and his view is broadened. Before running home, he offers a runner’s prayer:
“Where does my higher source want me? How can I best be of service? Please help me to do what I came here to do!”
Joe doesn’t wait for Sunday to pray or go to church. To him, running is that sacred time and place to fill up on the power and wisdom to live what can sometimes be a demanding and challenging life for many of us.
“I can go every day if I want. I just lace up my shoes and off I go into nature. Off I go into a deeper realm within myself.”
We’ve all had those days when running is magical. Sometimes we can attribute it to the setting or training or company we were keeping in those enchanted miles. Often though, we can’t quite put our finger on the source of the magic of the run!
“Though not always frequent, the magical miles are when my body seems to be doing the running for me, seemingly without effort,” Patrick says of the smooth, soft, and open quality of those runs. “Such moments make me realize that ‘I am not I,’ but someone else.”
Those are the moments when, like a wave rolling in, we catch a glimpse of who we have the potential to be, and lean into it. More than movement, running becomes the best expression of who we are and a beautiful way to celebrate the milestones in life.
“Here I am today. I had a volcano erupt in my life, affecting my work, my surfing, my places of worship, my friends, and my family,” says Joe, who reacted to this several-month event by heading off to the East Coast to run the 123rd Boston Marathon. The day of the race just so happened to be Joe’s birthday, as well. He celebrated 30 years clean and sober!
By mile one of the Boston Marathon, Joe was already feeling overheated. So began a painful trek back to Boston, complete with leg cramps, sufficient stretching mid-race, and conceding ultimately to run at a slower pace in order to actually finish the marathon. Joe landed in the medical tent after crossing the finish line, where they checked his vitals and eventually dismissed him.
Back on the train, he handed his medal to a five-year-old who had his eye on it. The child’s eyes lit up as he admired every detail of the Boston Marathon finisher medal before he returned it to Joe. To soul runners like Joe, running is not about the medal, even one that is of the Boston Marathon variety. It’s about discovering your true self, which is exactly what he experienced in Boston this year.
“There was tons of excitement for my journey to Boston. Several people contributed over $1000 toward my expenses for going there and racing,” Joe says of the flood of interest and support he felt in the months leading up to the Boston Marathon. “When it all was said and done I discovered it wasn’t for me at all. I realized I had gone to Boston on the hopes and dreams of other people and not for my own true self.”
To the soul runner, running is a sacred practice, best experienced when surrounded by forests, pastures, beaches, and lava fields. Running the Boston Marathon proved a striking contrast to the rural and even wild settings that Joe and Patrick choose for their running. For Joe, traveling from the Big Island to Boston for the marathon was a big journey and one that required significant effort.
“I barely made it to the finish line. But in doing so, I discovered once again my true self,” he asserts. “In stripping myself down and listening to my needs, I remembered again that I am a fan of solitude and the wild, natural places as opposed to the uncomfortable setting of large amounts of people.”
Replenishing our souls is not usually included on the standard marathon training plan. I’ve never seen it next to “6 x 90 seconds at 5k pace” or any other workout for that matter. Maybe the coexistence of running and spirituality seem like an impossibility. But it is the potential for finding replenishment for one’s soul that gives running such a spiritual quality.
Even the most competitive of us can find physical and mental benefits in setting aside a time and place to find a connection to something bigger and replenish our soul. For soul runners like Joe and Patrick, running is that holy sacrament. Run to discover your soul, or risk losing it, and going through a marathon or even through life on the hopes and dreams of others.
heart of a surfer
Ask Joe if he will return to Boston to attain another Boston Marathon medal, and he will calmly tell you that it’s not likely. He’s not thinking that far ahead anyway!
“So, many times being in the moment comes naturally for me. I give the future to my higher source and conveniently forget the past,” is Joe’s approach. “People and situations that feel right, they get embraced… I just show up each day, and agree to take into my life what feels right.”
Life, he explains, is all about change and staying with “the new, vibrant energy.” On April 15, 2019, Joe embraced that energy as a long-distance runner with the heart of a surfer and ran all 26 miles in Boston. Whether he will still be running marathons in six years, or even in six months, is unknown. He’ll catch that wave if and when it comes, and “go with what feels right” until then.
“What I find exciting and fulfilling may be very different in a year!” exclaims Joe, emphasizing the importance of being open. That may mean deviating from the predictability of a training plan (but doing so safely, of course). If your marathon plan says that you need to run 14 miles at conversation pace on Saturday, but your heart beats a little faster when you think about that half marathon your friends are running next weekend, be open to swapping out that workout for a fun day of racing!
have a little faith
Those of us who only know running as a competitive sport can learn more than a few lessons from the surfer and their relationship with nature. The ocean is a transient force that the surfer is keenly aware of. There are an ebb and flow to the waves that can be observed but never controlled, and it is a powerful reminder that there are forces in life that are bigger than us.
In running too, there is only so much you can control. Nature may throw heat, wind, ice, and rain our way, and make what should have been an easy run much more challenging.
Soul runners Patrick and Joe suggest that it is best to welcome these workouts with gratitude, and let the run come to you.
To run with a surfer’s heart, you don’t have to actually hop on a board. You don’t even have to live near the ocean. You just have to lace up your shoes and make the effort to paddle out. Once you do, try not to force the miles. You must patiently wait for them to come to you… and have a little faith!
Soul runners Patrick and Joe. Photo by David Alipio.