The Case For Boredom
Every adventurer needs the opposite, too: downtime.
A year ago, in the midst of a whirlwind period of my life when I was defending my master’s thesis, preparing for a move across the country, and training for my first 50-miler, I looked up from a 60 or 70 hour work week and decided I wanted to get one more trail run in, one more long adventure out on the sun-blasted California trails before the reality of the coming Monday set in.
I got dressed, stepped out my door, and then proceeded to sit in the driver’s seat, trying to muster up the energy to drive the half an hour it would take to get to the trailhead. For the next hour—then two—I sat in my truck, trying to understand how I could want so badly to go trailrunning and still not find a way to force myself to get started.
I was overworked. I wanted to run, to adventure, to sweat and feel that purifying feeling I think most of us feel out on the trail where we can forget our normal lives. I was overworked, but I wasn’t tired—I had the necessary physical energy, the stored calories or at least the wild adrenaline, to run as far as I wanted to. But what I hadn’t considered was my emotional energy—I had been in motion for so long, had been flitting from one task to the next all week long, and I had no appreciation for what it meant to be still, or silent, or bored.
I slipped off my running shoes and locked them in my truck, along with my phone. I waddled back inside in my socks, shut my computer all the way down, and told myself that for the next few hours I wouldn’t do anything more mentally or emotionally complicated than the energy it would take to swat a fly.
I’m more sane when I’m bored. And I’m even saner afterwards, after I’m done being bored, after having taken stock. Stock of who I am, inside and out—stock of who I want to be, of what I’m doing to get there. I am saner when I take stock of what adventuring means to me, when I take stock of what an absolute and unadulterated blessing it is to be able to take this inert body and set it into motion.
When I have the leisure to watch my thoughts meander through my head—and I know it is a privilege, this leisure—I become a different person. That’s not quite right, though: I become more myself, the person I was meant to be before I filled my life to bursting with th
ings that call for my attention.
For the next two hours, I lazed around my room. I counted ceiling tiles, cracks in the wall. I felt the ridges of my fingerprints with my thumb. I wondered if anyone had texted me, and then forgot to wonder. I spent a good twenty minutes thinking about why it is that the sky changes colors when the sun sets, which the sun was doing that very moment as I laid on the floor. The sun colored the walls and ceilings around me a fleeting orange, then a bloodied red, and finally a deep purple.
And then I went back to my truck, where my running shoes and my phone notifications were waiting for me. I made the drive. I donned a headlamp. And, finally free and finally bored enough to enjoy every millisecond of it, I set out.
Ryan Horner is a Roam & Run athlete, as well as a reader, a writer, and an ultrarunner. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and makes running-related videos about his training and his running life on his video blog (ForTheLoveOfRunning) at www.youtube.com/c/ForTheLoveOfRunning. You can also find him on instagram at @ryan_horner_