Moving Faster to Slow Down

Trail running at sunrise

For more than half my life, I’ve spent around 700 hours each year doing the sports I’m passionate about; climbing, trail running, cycling, and ski mountaineering. I’m a pretty detail oriented guy and have records for each day I either train, or just do these things, and I do them about 330 days each year.

2014 was my year of running, more specifically, running uphill. In November, I realized I had amassed 85,000 meters of vertical, just running. So I set the goal of 100,000 meters for 2014 and am now just 2000 away from that number.

It’s all pretty silly. What’s not silly is what it has given me. Time.

Occasionally, for long, grueling slogs, I tune in to podcasts. My favorite has become the NPR TED Radio Hour. Each show takes on a theme and uses TED Talks to further dive into the subject. Recently, a show was titled “Quiet” and included one of my favorite writers, and thinkers, Pico Iyer. One of his thoughts stuck with me, “In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.”

It seems nearly every show, in one form or another, takes on life in these rapidly changing times. The way we live and work, the technology we use, and the stress we feel are continual topics. One is left with a feeling that human beings are moving away from being human. It’s pretty clear, more emphasis is placed on showing what we do rather than experiencing what we do.

I am no less guilty, I also catch myself falling into habits I don’t want with social media, device time, or perceiving myself busier than I am really am.

Pico Iyer’s statement deserved considering. But, it would be so easy, and cliche, to just wholeheartedly agree and carry on. So, where does it apply in my life? In your life? For me, it is applicable when I am engaged in my sports.

Ironically, the faster I move through the mountains, or the harder I push myself climbing, the slower I am actually going. Because in these moments, inside my head, everything slows down, I become present in what is suddenly a simplified world. For me, sport is the venue to feel life. Performance is how I express myself.

Ultimately, this time we dedicate to what we love might not be about what it can give us, but what it can take away, leaving us to be, and feel, who we really are.


Comments 11

  1. Really resonated with your post Dan. I just posted last night about how a long ride brought clarity and perspective to a crazy year. These moments on the bike are always special. More and more I’m moving towards a life of minimalism, simplicity and life experiences above noise and things. It’s a powerful change, and the bike and being outdoors are certainly an important part of that.

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      For me, obviously, it is all about being in the mountains. This year I actually found that running gave me something that cycling doesn’t. A feeling of truly being out. With cycling, unless I was on the smallest and quietest of roads, I was still amongst people and being influenced by them. With running, I am truly alone and find myself having many more meaningful moments. I think this is why Will rides his crazy dirt roads to go explore – he finds the same thing. But yes, plodding along at ease can still allow for chaos in the head, but once full engagement is required, full presence comes, and this is priceless. Lesson being… charge!

  2. Dan, this is great stuff. Spot on. I actually also find that trail running is my most creative time, and that my mind seems to go through various steps… clearing the junk out, settling into a groove, spacing out, and then great, free-flowing ideas. I remember an NPR story about how when we are engaged in repetitive motor activities with our brains, various parts start to reconnect and neurons fire in interesting ways– a scientist’s answers to the reality we feel at such times. I’m beginning to think that I run more for the chill it brings to an otherwise often hectic life, than the physical fitness. Well, both are important, of course, but the in-the-moment, calmness of it all really heals. Great post!

  3. Nicely written Dan! We also had a year more geared to running and horses than bikes. One of the things that I dig about running mountain trails is how the mind unwinds and can figure out things I’ve been working on all day. I make it a point to leave the headphones at home and the phone off. There is something hypnotic about the deep inhale and exhale while clicking off the vertical. The thing that fascinates me is how the mind quickly uncovers the answer to a challenge I’ve been working on all day at the desk while I’m descending a technical downhill. I’m completely focused on the trail and the footing but my mind has figured out a better way to set up the excel sheet or a better marketing focus for a product line. In a time where it’s harder and harder to focus, the focus on trail running allows me to focus. Some good stuff! (On another note you need to put some of that vertical to work. Come over and do the Imogene Pass Run with us. It goes from 7,800 feet to 13,114 in 9 miles. There is some good thinking at 13,000 feet).

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      To everyone who posted in response to this article – thank you. I am really happy to hear that so many others have found a similar truth these days. Thank you again! / Dan

  4. Wonderful thoughts, Dan. It’s great to reflect on this as the year comes to a close and most every other blog post I see shared on social media includes some robotic output of the “best” or “most” or whatever of things that have happened in 2014. It’s strange to think that it has taken effort, but I’ve worked on being in-the-moment and making sure to experience things rather than just document and share them this year. It truly is about focusing and slowing down, and Pico Iyer’s words reminded me of another quote from Edward Abbey:
    “There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated. To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me.”

  5. Dan,

    Yes, yes; yes.

    For me, in 2014, I stopped road cycling that much and began long, slow mountain biking. My only goal being quiet, quiet trails/paths/roads. Nothing makes me feel better than a long, quiet, slow ride – for similar reasons to you I think.

    Happy Holidays to you and Janine,


  6. Beautiful articulation! For me it’s slowing down the mental race and where there is more space between thoughts. Climbing and outdoor performance via a meditative state. Thank you for sharing Dan.

  7. Very well said, Dan. I’ve had many of the same thoughts myself, especially this past summer when I was thinking about it a lot… but I haven’t put it as eloquently as you did. Too much time on devices, allowing myself to feel like I’m too busy… a lot of us get trapped in that game, I think. I’ve only been trail running for a couple years, but I too love the opportunity it gives me to unplug and tune out. Enjoy those last 2000 meters this year!

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