I don’t need a reason to run and exercise. On a weekly basis, it is something that I do. Many other things that I do on a regular basis don’t have the same qualities as running. I’ve been reflecting on where this drive for running and exercise comes from and how I can put it to good use.

By Brett Mulder, PsyD

I don't need a reason to run and exercise. On a weekly basis, it is something that I do. Many other things that I do on a weekly basis don’t have the same quality. On the weekends, I typically buy groceries or do other mundane tasks. None of these things bring me a sense of joy or calm. They are things that need to get done and my motivation for them waxes and wanes. Running and exercise have a different quality. On a run, the experience of music playing through ear buds feels as if the lyrics and sounds are in my head; at times my thoughts drift into a kind of flow-like state. I’ve been reflecting on where this drive for running and exercise comes from.

I grew up in a large family in the Midwest, involving three brothers and a sister. My father worked hard during the week. He typically put in extra hours in the evening, after he came home and had dinner with the family. One way in which my brothers and I spent time with my father was through sports and exercise. As far back as I can remember, Sundays were days where my brothers and I would play games of baseball, football and basketball. These athletic activities became a ritual that we came to expect and look forward to as part of our week. Another ritual for our family on Sundays involved going to church.

My father also grew up in a large family, involving five sisters and one brother. The understanding I have of my grandfather is that he was skilled in his profession, but his passion resided in his devotion to religion. In addition to his profession, he was trained as a minister. My understanding is that he never formally worked in a pastoral capacity, but remained devoted to his church and religion throughout his life. His profession allowed him to provide for his large family and his religion addressed questions of meaning and purpose in life.

As a boy, my father showed an early talent for baseball. Growing up as a child in the 50’s his favorite team was the Chicago White Sox and his sports hero was Luis Aparicio. Aparicio was regularly a league leader in stolen bases and my father imagined him as he played on teams and with friends. My father was asked to join a travel team that played baseball games on Sundays. My grandfather recognized Sundays as the Sabbath and for him that meant a day of rest. The Sunday family ritual involved spending several hours at church in the morning and lunch as a family. In the afternoons, my grandfather rested and the children were expected to memorize bible verses and recite them at the family dinner. When my father asked if he could join the travel baseball team he was told no.

Once I was older, after several years of going out on Sundays with my siblings and religiously playing sports in the afternoons, my father recounted the memory of not being able to play baseball as a boy on Sundays. I don’t recall him saying, “And this is why I take all of you out to play together on Sundays.” By taking us out each Sunday he was quietly redefining what a day of rest meant. It came to mean a day of not working; a day that involved playing, connecting, exercising, imagining, and frankly sometimes fighting because my brothers and I could be competitive at times.

One of the things these rituals instilled in me was the repetition of exercise. During school, it involved playing on sports teams or pick up games of many varieties. As I’ve gotten older exercise and running have been the activities I’ve consistently relied upon to manage stress and find a sense of calm. The decades of repetition turned the behaviors into a habit that I now simply just do. For my grandfather, his devotion to his faith addressed questions of meaning and purpose. My own journey has led me to find answers to questions of meaning and purpose in my professional life. At Aspire, I have the honor to work with talented colleagues that provide programs and services for individuals on the autism spectrum and related profiles. My professional commitment, to the services that facilitate growth and change at Aspire, consistently provide an anchor for meaning and purpose in my life.

Next month, I am part of a team of twelve MGH Aspire staff running a 200 mile Ragnar Relay Race from Hull, MA to Provincetown, MA. We are fundraising for the Aspire programs and services we provide throughout the year. We start the race on Friday and run through the night until we reach Provincetown the next afternoon. This event gives me a reason to run and the following Sunday will be a day of rest. I would be honored to have your support for this event.