I just got in from an hour and a half run out on the canal and I am extremely happy. What is there about running in just shorts and sandals exactly that feels so positively liberating? Here in Mexico, in this climate it’s the height of comfort. Running here is nothing like taking a jog through Rock Creek Park or doing a run on the C&O Canal Trail; both in Washington, DC. No, it’s a little less sheltered here, also a little more open and a lot less protected. But my running is the better for it. I like wilderness and running places that are off the grid. Places where there are just the primal elements of rock, dirt, sun, and sky. No people to speak of. No traffic. No sounds but that of the wind moving through the leaves and my sandals as they lightly slap the ground. For all I know it could be 1320 and not 2013. Spend enough time in this Mexican valley and you come to realize just how totally indifferent nature is to both man and time. Awareness like this on days like today further catalyzes my joy as I cross its landscape. It’s at these times that I never feel so more plugged in and alive. The running monster self has emerged.

Sounds crazy, right? If you’re not a runner or if you’ve never experienced that proverbial runner’s high from elevated levels of endorphins then you might not believe me when I say running jacked up on endorphins is the best buzz on earth.

I’ll preface my argument with a conversation that I had on the phone this morning with one of my oldest friends, also a runner, where I said that the running blogs or the stories that get published about running are mostly ignorable at best. We agreed that wasn’t surprising given that on the [popular]cultural level the sport of running has been hijacked by the shoe and fashion businesses and subsequently get’s bundled up like just about everything else into a lifestyle that involves buying stuff. Yeah, that tired old rant about stuff but running is so intrinsically simple that it really bugs me to see the magazines and blog articles cluttered with things that ooze ickiliy of lifestyle. Running is simple: shorts, sandals, dirt, and time. Some of the articles about style and technique aggravatingly get tied to a particular running shoe solution. And I love the whole celebrity style trainer shoe thing. Or the articles on how to improve your 5K/10K times which improbably segue into reviews of the latest array of GPS enabled running watches. Some articles are inspirational (or nagging) to keep reminding neophytes that running will help them lose weight and stay slim. Yes, truth be known your cute little neighbor runs for that reason but she’s not a true runner in the sense that experientially she never has done more than 6 miles. And she, I can just about guarantee, has never found that endorphin buzz; which by the way, is the total point of the argument of why some of us run.

To begin with the sport of running is exclusive; it’s an activity that a person can’t buy their way into. And contrary to popular opinion running at the very root is really about an anti-consumerist lifestyle if for no other reason that you never have time to shop. To become a better runner, you have to run more. And to be a distance runner is to essentially commit the entirety of your day(s) to running. It is amazing how much of your day gets sucked up by long runs. And you have to eat healthy. You can’t stay out late. In short, the distance runner’s value system changes because of those huge commitments. The only things that really matter to the serious runner are: how the body feels, what’s on the feet is comfortable, and doing the miles.

So there is that, the commitment and the base level physical state that are yours as a runner. But maybe, just maybe somewhere along the way through your persistence something clicks for you and you discover the heart and soul of running – true running. You’re out for a run and you find that somehow your motion has become effortless, your legs feel loose and all-powerful, and your breath is light. And you are accelerating (!) and you don’t know why except it feels so good.

Welcome to the endorphin buzz – enjoy it – because for the moment, you are a superman.

To me, running is all about finding that buzz; to take the body to that perfectly matchless state where everything is operating in full synchronicity. It’s like God has just lifted the curtain just a wee bit enough to show you the majesty of your physical self. And for me it’s only running that can lift me into that rarified place that I can only describe as transcendent. Running, writing, and sandal-making is my life at the moment and I am pretty happy with the way things are turning out. I’d like to be selling more sandals. I’d like to see more people catch on to the fact that I am making the best sandals in the world. But wait and see and in the mean time, enjoy the buzz.

But I first had to push myself through the pain and put in the miles necessary to get to that magical place. It took perseverance and lots of time. I remember that first time I discovered endorphins. It was while my buddy, Ian and I were up running the fire roads in the California high Sierras training for my first and only marathon back in ’97. We finished sprinting the last 30 minutes of a 3 hour run. Yes, sprinting. The endorphin rush made me feel like monster. With endorphins, in the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson ‘My heart feels like an alligator’.

It was ironic because when I first started training, my very experienced running partners thought I was a hopeless case. They both said my running form was absolute crap. But I hung in there and kept running. So after 17 years I am still running although I didn’t get started until I was approaching forty. I love running more today at 57 then I ever did at 40. Maybe because after all this time I can still find that monster running self; and when it comes to me I am grateful.

People that run to win things like ultra- marathons, marathons, or 5Ks, or whatever – fine – they’re competitive; my daughter is that way. She ran a 3:07 marathon in May of this year which qualified her for both the Boston and NYC’s marathons next year. And I am very proud of her. She’s a competitor and she admits to love passing people in a race. As for me, I’m not a racer. I run for the buzz.

And running where I live in Mexico it’s a year around proposition; 5000 ft. above sea level, spring like temperatures every day. It’s a runner’s paradise. And I absolutely love Mexico. I live in a town where the people are the nicest in the entire world. And I love living in a place where I don’t understand everything; where day to day living creates an awareness of mysteries the likes of which I haven’t felt since I was a kid. Mexico, as Octavio Paz points out, has multiple cultures living on different historical timelines. If you get off the beaches and away from the resorts and move inland and spend some time here you’ll soon discover that there’s lot’s of shit that makes positively no sense at all. But that’s another story…

And this is the first place I have ever lived in my life where I actually care about what people think about me. Part of that awareness comes from finally growing up but I also think it says something about the people and the place. For example, I use the Gray combi-bus line (Ruta Gris) to get back and forth to the valley that lies east of town. I chat with the drivers some, tease the kids, and try to make myself extra small and less sweaty when the bus is packed. Some of the drivers are reciprocal. They see me making an effort to fit in and so they’ll honk and wave when they see me. Some have taken to tapping on their electronic whistles when they pass my house, just to say hello. If I am home sitting up on the third floor working or hammocking out on the terrace and I hear that familiar toot I know one of the Ruta Gris buses is out front of my house wheezing its way up Calle Victoria.

And another example of the great kindness of these people is while I never buy any of Ramone’s fried pig’s guts he greets me warmly and graciously just the same every morning when I enter the Mercado for breakfast. I say good morning to half a dozen different people on my three and a half block walk down to breakfast and say good morning to another half dozen people when I get to the Mercado. And so it goes all day; there is always someone to talk to and the list of smiling, happy, warm and friendly people that I interact with here just goes on and on.

The local people are very kind and gracious to this old gringo who runs their valley in huaraches and who is also trying to make a go of the sandal business; something that all the huaracheros are struggling with these days. I sense that these people want me to succeed which is a refreshing contrast to some of the more competitive places and people that I’ve known.

And crazy as it seems, I enjoy riding the combi – the poor person’s transport – crowded as it is some days, mostly just to watch the little kids. Coming back this afternoon there was a 5 year old little girl who I saw as the splitting image of my own savage little self at that age. The combi driver had to wait for her mother to chase her down before then having to literally wrestle her on to the bus. Arms and legs snagging first at the door until finally latching onto her brother who she stuck to like chewing gum before getting finally pried off his leg.  But as mom’s do, she won in the end and guided her firmly to the bench on the other side of the bus. There was no screaming or hitting; just mom’s quiet insistent voice. I don’t think I have ever in my entire life seen such amazing and persistent stubbornness in such a small package. It was absolutely so funny I laughed out loud. The mom smiled and gave me one of those knowing ‘you have no idea’ kind of looks. As we passed a cathedral the mom told her daughter to make the sign of the cross. The child looked back and scowled. What was noteworthy is that the little girl wasn’t crying, screaming or throwing a tantrum during any of that. She was just highly independent and very determined to have her own way. Her 7 year old brother on the other hand had boarded quietly and sat drawing pictures the entire way into town with the last nickel’s worth of ink in his chewed up 29 cent blue Bic pen. He reminded me a little bit of me too.