Running on Empty

I have written before about one of my favorite races, CJ’S Resolution Challenge. (And I will soon write about it again in an upcoming race report.)

CJ’s is a timed race. This means there is no set distance. Instead, runners run for a certain amount of time to see how far we can travel. In this race, the time interval is three hours.

The race is typically held on the first Saturday in January, but this year our state was under strict pandemic-related guidelines at that time. Gatherings larger than 25 people, even outdoors, were not allowed. When the governor relaxed the rules so a maximum of 250 people were allowed to gather outside, CJ’s was back on the docket for the end of January.

The day of the race dawned cold and windy. No surprise there for mid-state Pennsylvania in January. What was a surprise were the snow-covered trails. Where I live, some 100 miles south and east of the race location, snow cover was nonexistent.

My husband and I ran for three hours in cold, windy conditions on snow and ice for a total of just over16 miles.

At the end of the race, if you would have asked me how I felt, my response would have been “empty“.

Yes, I was hungry after the race. The hot soup dished up by hardy volunteers was exactly what I needed. I gratefully sat in the car and sipped the salty bean soup. Numbness gradually receded from my fingers and the nourishing warm broth slowly filled my empty belly.

The emptiness I initially felt, however, was more than physical emptiness. It was not something that could be filled with hot soup.

Running for long distances tends to pare your soul to the bone. It scrubs you clean and empties you out, emotionally speaking.

That’s one of the reasons I love running so much.

When people hear I am a runner, I am often asked if I have ever experienced the fabled “runner’s high“. My response? Maybe? I don’t know.

There have been times when I felt as if I could run forever. Like running is effortless, and I can glide along, perpetually three inches above the pavement. There have also been times when I slog it out, each step a battle. Times when I glance at my watch to see how many miles have passed since the last time I looked, only to discover a mere quarter of a mile has gone by.

But an actual runner’s high? I don’t know what that feels like.

I just feel empty after a hard run, and that is the best feeling I can imagine.

Emptiness is New Year’s Day, a blank canvas, a white piece of paper, an empty bowl, and a newborn baby all rolled into one. The emptiness is brimming with possibilities, and I want nothing more than possibilities.

We live lives that are full, so full. If I am not careful, my life becomes consumed with busyness, even in retirement.

There are grandchildren to watch, volunteer duties with Meals on Wheels to complete, online yoga classes to attend, a house to keep, groceries to buy, posts to write, and on, and on, and on…

I watch the news because I want to be informed. I scroll social media because, you know, the blog. When I first started this blog, I was advised to have a social media presence, which I now feel obligated to maintain.

But my word of the year is “empty“. And I crave “empty“. “Empty” is my goal.

How do I reconcile all that busyness with my word?

If I am already filled with industry, how will I find room for the good stuff? How will I discover serenity, graciousness, laughter? If I am dedicated to productivity, how can I be filled with contemplation? How do I make space for passion, peace, or humility? How can I be filled with joy?

If I am living my life through clenched teeth, how can I find the capacity for love?

A grueling run allows me to push the reset button, to rid myself of the perpetual buzz that fills me with the inconsequential, to make room for the momentous.

Emptiness is not something to be overcome; it is something to be sought. Emptiness is opportunity, purity, fortuity, freedom. It is a space to be filled with abundance. A vessel is useful precisely because it is empty.

According to Saint John of the Cross, “One must encounter a vast inner void.” It is time to embrace that void and all of the possibilities it portends.

It is time to welcome emptiness.

You can find the places I link up here.

108 comments

  1. The concept of emptying ourselves is a stunning one, Laurie. Most of us don’t want to feel empty, translation – devoid of meaning or value. But the way you’ve described it here, it’s the only way we can truly become what God wants us to be, waiting patiently to be filled by His love and grace. Beautiful concept!
    Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 3 hours. Sounds like marathon training. Especially tough in the winter though.

    I don’t think I ever get a runners high while I’m running. It’s always hard while I’m out there especially if I am alone. But afterward no matter how bad the race or run felt, I feel that high or feeling of toughness or maybe I can call it badassness.

    So I do it again and again.

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  3. It’s been a long time since I’ve run far enough to get the long-run feeling. (CJs didn’t count last year because I was in so much pain the whole time). For me, I’d describe the feeling a peace. My mind enters a meditative state when I run for that long and I And I finish completely relaxed. Combine that with the satisfaction of knowing that I just ran for three hours and it’s one of the best feelings in the world. Until I fall asleep on the couch at 8:00 that evening. If running empties me of anything, it’s longing. I want nothing after such a long run. Hmmm. now I want to go run for three hours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey…I missed you at CJ’s this year, Jeff. So sorry you didn’t have a great experience last year. At peace and relaxed are good ways to describe my feelings after a long run too. We did a fairly long run yesterday and I DID wind up taking a nap yesterday afternoon! 🙂 I hope you have a good run.

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  4. That CJ’s race sounds awesome, looking forward to the recap!

    I joined social media because of the blog, too. But now I feel that it is filling me with busyness. I’m yearning to feel more “empty”.
    I need to rethink my priorities. Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your comments on being emptied by a hard run were most interesting to me. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced anything like it. If I sit down the play the piano, the world recedes. My mind is totally engrossed with notes on the page, fingers moving, and sound all around. Pressures and troubles don’t exist. I should do it again and be aware of the emptiness before my mind is fully engaged.

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    • I think playing the piano, running, meditating…anything that allows us to lose ourselves in the moment…are the paths to the emptiness I am looking for. I once read that the “rests” are the most important part of the music. Emptiness in the music too.

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  6. Thank you! As well as including a form of my word for 2021 (contemplate), you reminded me of the purpose of emptying ourselves to allow room for the Lord to fill me. Your word, empty, also speaks to me in the form of detoxing (which is part of my regular health self-care). I’m so glad you are part of this group! It’s nice to meet you and hear from your heart today. Hugs!

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  7. I think I’ve said before how much I love your word of the year and how it is to me a hopeful word. The way you’ve described empty after your run – stripped back to the core, reset, given your all – sometimes that’s what we all need. To strip away the extraneous stuff.

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  8. Hi Laurie – your post today kind of reflects mine that I published today – I wrote about not wanting to join all the groups and activities that have sprung up over the last year. Everyone else seems to want to be busy and occupied and entertained – me not so much. I just want quiet headspace and a gentle day. I’d love to be a runner but will never understand how people find it enjoyable (that pic of you in the snow does my head in!) I like the idea of a clear mind – and walking helps me with that too. Being bombarded by this world we’re in is just not how I want to live any more – so I’ll sit quietly in my own space and tune out the noise.

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    • Leanne, I just commented on that post! I loved it!!! I so agree with you. Most of the time. I do like to run with other people, though. It gives me something to think about other than how tired I am! 🙂

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  9. I’ve been singing “Running on Empty” in my head every time I see your title, Laurie. 🙂 That’s a good thing.

    You make emptiness sound so appealing. I love all these: “Emptiness is New Year’s Day, a blank canvas, a white piece of paper, an empty bowl, and a newborn baby all rolled into one.”

    I need more emptiness in my life and to guard it closer. “Emptiness is not something to be overcome; it is something to be sought.” I’m loving getting to watch you on this journey; you’re leading the way on this race too. Thanks for linking up today!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Laurie, this is such a good post. I am not a runner and I so crave “emptiness’. Every single morning, I come empty before God and His Word to be filled. In Him, I find myself satisfied, content, and prepared for what the day will unfold.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I do feel it physically too once the endorphins wear off. I ran this weekend with a fellow blogger. First time I ever ran with someone I met online. We talked the whole 9 miles. The time went by so fast!

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  11. That’s an interesting race. You and your husband did great in those conditions. I don’t think I have ever gotten the “runners high” either, but I haven’t run a lot of long distances. My longest was 11 miles and, as I recall, I just felt really tired…and maybe a little empty. I agree with you…sometimes you have to empty yourself in order to have room for the things that really count in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Emptiness is something that I tend to try to avoid but I can see the appeal of it from the way you’ve described it. Maybe I should try allowing and welcoming emptiness a little more myself. Well done on managing to run 16 miles in such wintry conditions. #MMBC

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louise, I think you will know when you are ready to welcome some emptiness. Thanks. Who would have thought running 16 miles in the snow would be so much fun? 🙂

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  13. I’ve been thinking about this post since reading it the first time…and I keep coming back to this sense of ‘fullness in being empty’ or some such concept…Making synonyms out of antonyms, in a way! They feel like two sides of a coin to me. I think of what fills me up (giving to someone else, for example) and what empties me (a hard workout, typically)–and how both are RIGHT where I want to be. (You also made me crave a hardy soup here!!)

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    • You are so right. I love the concept of contradiction. Now that I think about it, a lot of my writing involves that. I have just started writing for a progressive political organization. I get to express all the political views I keep out of the blog. It’s awesome. The last piece I wrote for them was all about contradictions. Thanks for the insight!

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    • Yes, the time to think is the most valuable for me. It’s when I get most of the ideas for my posts. I once considered carrying along a little piece of paper and a pencil so I don’t forget what I was thinking about, but I decided against it.

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  14. Hi Laurie, I also crave that emptiness that you’ve written about. I do love silence, which I can manage regularly, but that feeling of emptiness is a little more elusive. I’ll be reaching out for it now more often, after having read your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I “liked” your blog, laurie, but the truth is I really LOVED it. This is my message! We wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as if it’s our worth — yes, even I can fall into that trap — but it’s not who we are. It’s definitely my mission to help people realize it’s ok to do nothing. Sometimes.

    I definitely do a feel a runner’s high sometimes. Often after a really good race. I am not empty then, I am alive, happy, chatty. I’ve said to Mr. Judy that that’s something I want him to find — the thing that makes him feel that way.

    I am more likely to feel empty on the run, LOL! Sometimes. Sometimes my mind empties, and that’s important too, because I tend to live in my head a LOT.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Judy. You are so right – our “accomplishments” are not who we are. I want to take a step back from the busyness. I found that after I retired, there were so many opportunities of things to do, I had to choose very carefully.

      I want the same thing for Bill. I don’t think he has quite the connection to running that I do. He does it so he can eat whatever he wants to!

      I think there are lots of paths to emptiness. I use running, but some people get there from birdwatching, hiking, painting…even yoga! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Congratulations on your race! Definitely not an easy task to run 3 hours in those weather conditions.

    I can relate to what you said about feeling empty. That’s how I have felt after all of my marathons – and I for sure never had a runner’s high during them, lol.

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    • Thank you, Kim. I love that race each year. It is run to raise money for Autism Awareness, so I love the cause it supports too. Ha! I never had a runner’s high during a marathon either – that’s for sure!

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  17. I didn’t see that coming. I love this. I mean, I really love this. Striving for emptiness is not anything I’ve ever considered, but I totally get it. And now I want it! I’m not a great runner yet so most of my time is spent pushing myself to just keep running, and trying not to beat myself up for not having more stamina or more strength. But yoga helps me empty out a bit. Not wholly, but a little. And a little can easily be turned into a lot.

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  18. So many wonderful words and thoughts in this post, I chose this one to capture: “A vessel is useful precisely because it is empty.: A great ah-ha statement. A great update on how you are living your WOTY and lots to ponder. Blessings, Michele

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  19. I love how you’ve taken a potentially negative idea and changed our paradigm. I will never think of “empty” the same again.

    My favourite line: “Emptiness is not something to be overcome; it is something to be sought”. Particularly appropriate in a world where we are bombarded by media & obligations.

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  20. hi laurie
    this was enjoyable to read
    love the ideas
    you connected to the value of emptiness – a word often connected with lack of not ideal – but your point was delivered well
    – the clearing away – or emptying – that running gives you is what a walk does for me – or a nice yoga class and gardening – of the release!

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  21. Congratulations on your run and I found it even more interesting to read and understand where you are coming from for “empty”…We are so busy “filling up” our lives, we have no idea how to feel as you do post a race. I think I understand even more now “why you, and others run”.

    Thank you for linking up your blog post for #lifethisweek on Monday 22 Feb 2021. Next week, it’s the first optional prompt of Taking Stock where I am using my own prompts for the first time. Hope to see you there, on or off prompt. Take care, Denyse #lifethisweek #linkup #Australia

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Denyse. I think there are many ways to get to “empty”. Running happens to be the most reliable way for me. Thank you for hosting. Hope to see you next week!

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    • I did stay with my husband the whole time. We took it easy – especially toward the end of the race. You are NOT the only one who has never had runner’s high!

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  22. Laurie, this is the most positive post I have read on the topic of “empty”. I love your perspective, it’s raw in that it’s real, empty feels stark, but at the same time it’s uplifting as your comment about empty feeling like New Year’s Day, or a blank canvas. Embracing empty as a new beginning means getting rid of the weights that beset and hinder us. Great job!

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  23. I can’t imagine running for three hours, especially in those conditions. But I can identify with wanting to be emptied of what doesn’t matter and filled with what does. I so need God’s wisdom to know which is which. Someone (maybe Spurgeon?) once said that we have to be careful of not just good and bad, but better and best. There are so many good things we can spend time and attention on these days.

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  24. There is no better feeling for me than starting out the day with a clear slate as I step out the door for a walk. I do know my clear mind and the restorative feeling I have will soon be sullied by the news of the day, work (if it’s a weekday), and all too soon the peace and clear head I returned home with is crammed with crud.

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  25. I admire your ability to run for three hours! Quite a feat, I think. My daughter is training for a marathon and her long running days are wearing her out, but she loves it. Thanks for linking up and have a great weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

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