How This “Running Rabbi” Found More Meaning in Miles

Mile 1 of my run
Mile 1 of my run

As a rabbi on staff at the ISJL, I travel around the South quite a bit. Recently, I had the honor of traveling almost 500 miles to spend a weekend with Temple Shalom of Northwest Arkansas. Sure, 500 miles sounds like a lot, but it’s not the furthest we travel to serve our Southern communities. Here’s what was special about these hundreds of miles: ​I RAN 10 OF THOSE MILES ON FOOT.

You see, I’m currently training for the Mississippi Blues Half-Marathon in January. This isn’t the first half-marathon I will ever run; however, it is the first one after having MCL surgery and an ACL replaced a year ago. After my physical therapy ran its course (no pun intended), I decided I needed a goal to keep getting stronger and healthier. Using a training app, I run several times a week, and my long runs are on Friday. It makes for an even more poignant day of rest on Shabbat. But as I got ready for my big Arkansas trip, I realized I would have to run 10 miles in addition to driving to Fayetteville for a visit.

How would I fit it in? I decided I had three options, all of which required a 5:30 AM wake-up call. I could wake up, run, then get on the road… but I don’t run well too early in the morning. I could wake up, get on the road, then run at my destination… but my legs might be stiff from the drive. Or, I could wake up, drive halfway, run, find a place to shower, and then finish the drive, with the finding-a-shower factor being the most inconvenient element… until I remembered that my open-24-hours gym has a location in Little Rock, the perfect place for me to grab a shower after my run.

When I parked at the River Mountain trail head near Little Rock, I was nervous about how long this might take. If I went too far, I would have no choice but to return without a shower (not a good option). If my knee hurt or my lungs didn’t feel like working, and I was  slow getting back to my car, I could potentially be late for Shabbat. I started running, and after about a mile, I finally stopped thinking about all the potential pitfalls of these 10 miles, and instead started noticing my surroundings.

It was beautiful on the Arkansas River. The birds were chirping and I ran far enough away from the road that the noise from tires traveling seventy miles an hour disappeared. I was able to appreciate Creation in a different way than any other trip for work. I breathed the cool air, and each inhale and exhale excited me for catching my spiritual breath on Shabbat.

At least, that’s how the first five miles were.

image2
Made it to Mile 10! Whew.

The last five miles were pure pain, as I gritted through the throbbing in my knees to complete the 10 miles in over 2.5 hours (I averaged 16-minute miles with the first half being significantly faster than the second half). But I made it. I showered. I got back on the road, done with my run and ready to rabbi — er, roll.

I was surprised when it was time to lead services. I wasn’t exhausted or mentally worn out. In fact, I felt like I played guitar more smoothly than usual. I delivered my sermon more clearly than usual (and entirely from memory, since I had a lot of time to go over it in my mind and work out the kinks as I got my miles in). I felt like I had a true spiritual moment, something that doesn’t always occur when I’m thinking about what is happening on the next page.

Taking 10 miles out of my 500 made me appreciate each moment more, just as taking some time to rest and reflect on Shabbat makes us appreciate every day more. It was a great reminder for this “running rabbi.” Making time to run, making time to stop, making moments matter – it all makes getting from Point A to Point B so much more meaningful.

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