There are very few books that capture the essence of long distance running. Certainly none of them exist in the fitness section of your local book shop.
Photographs of shaved body models with their glowing skin crushing their runs while offering you advice/an inferiority complex on what you’re doing wrong are about as close to what long distance running is as those websites on the private browsing mode of you smart phone are to sex.
A long out of print book by James Shapiro from the very early 1980’s with the same title as this post is the closest I’ve encountered in the written word. Murakami’s What I talk about when I talk about running tries to express this but is often overshadowed by the biographical glimpses into the world of a famous writer (an understandable side effect if your name is Haruki Murakami)
It’s been a week since I was fitted with my leg brace and over 8 weeks since I last ran. My hiatus from wearing out my body has made me think once again about why I do it. I haven’t been staring into the dark abyss of long term injury since 2013 so I’ve taken my running for granted. And now that I have one leg twitching with nervous energy and the other one locked in a splint I’ve thought about it a bit more.
Strapping young man
I don’t run for fitness. Or for weight control. Dog walking, the odd 5k and cycling to work looks after one of those and the other one is looked after by keeping your mouth closed. And I’m able to do both of those without expensive running shoes.
I don’t run for the social interaction. Like Groucho Marx I’m not a member of any club (that would have me). And anytime I do hook up with people to run I end up over sharing. If you’ve ever had the mis/fortune to run along side me in the middle of an ultra marathon you’ll know what I mean.
And I don’t even think I run for the head space. I hear people comment on how running helps them unwind or how doctors prescribe running as a cure for mental health problems. I disagree.
If you lifted the bonnet on my head during a 10 mile run you’d be privy to all sorts of what the French call l’esprit de l’escalier conversations (those internal monologues where you replay social interactions but instead of your real life stumbling you’d be as witty as the love child of Oscar Wilde and Stephen Fry).
And anyway, if you want head space these days all you have to do is pop on a pair of headphones in public. It’s a lot less effort than 20 miles of sweating.
It’s not for external validation. Who hasn’t entered a race from the comfort of their sofa and glass of red only to end up standing at the starting line at dawn six months later dressed in a bin bag with the bowel control of a toddler? Only me? Well, it cures you of the need for peer approval.
I don’t have a bucket list of races or distances. I don’t have any desire to enter some high profile ultra event. You start to realise that, like social media, you’re the commodity in those races. And yes, the meta nature of that statement is not lost on me as I publish this blog post on a free site.
It’s in our nature.
Smarter than most species? Ask the elephants and whales.
Cooperating in social groups? anyone want an ant hill or some honey?
Adapting to different climates? Woof Woof said the dog.
Running all night and all day? Through the midday sun, sweating and burning fat? Up mountains and through deserts?
As Sinead O’Connor might have sung: Nothing compares to us.
It’s like the old joke: Why does a dog lick his balls?
Because he can.