Sunday, December 6, 2009

What You Can Learn From: Running, pt 2.

I've been running regularly for more than a month now. The more I do it, the more I realise what of the activity can teach us and reveal to us about the rest of our difficulties in simply existing. Here are two more:

1. Running teaches you that there are times you must think and concentrate. And then there are times when you must not think at all. At certain points of a long run, you really have to be very very aware of the mechanics of your body - how your legs feel, how your feet are hitting the ground, whether the rhythm of your breathes are working, your level of hydration, etc. At these points, if you don't concentrate, one of a few things will happen - you will quickly fall out of breath, or you will twinge something in your leg, or you will pass out - either way, you will have to stop running.

But then there are other times in which it is the absolute worst thing to think to much. These are the points where the energy has drained from your leg muscles and it feels like your running on bone and elastic bands. There is nothing wrong with your technique, you are just at a tiring point - a point which, if you concentrate upon, will simply prolong the experience drastically. These are the times you simply need to switch off your mind and just exist.

A certain degree of quality of life can largely be summarized in this equation: there are times when you have to think, and there are times when you have to not think. Happiness is very dependent on knowing when these times are and acting accordingly.

2. Long distance running is an amazingly effective way to learn to love your body. I have had mixed feelings towards my body - a nude scene I did as a drama student stripped away any remaining superficial insecurities I had, but I had always felt an intense distrust towards my body's physical abilities (this is what happens when you are bad at sprt at school) (also, this is probably why I can't drive). Running, more than anything else, gives you a sense of trust. More than that though - it's fondness. Have you ever seen that episode of Top Gear where the three hosts drive across America in cheaply bought cars, having all kinds of crazy hijinks and adventures? Remember their derisory attitudes towards their vehicles at the beginning, and their sense of love towards them at the end? If we go through some kind of adversity, and overcome this, we feel an innate attachment to anything which followed us along that journey. Long distance running is essentially creating our own safe adversity which we can overcome, and our bodies, that which got us through it, become symbols of this dogged determination. When you run enough, your body goes from being your enemy to your ally - you realise that all your earlier spats were mere misunderstandings, and you really do see on the same page about a lot of things.

Perhaps most amazing though is the way our body's admitted foibles - our bad joints or lumpy bits - start to become points of endearment. This is when you truly begin to love your body, when you start to love the "negatives" as well. They symbolise the power and charm your body actually has - your feats and accomplishments become all the more amazing because they were done by a thoroughly imperfect being, and one that you then cannot hate - just as you could not hate a loyal butler who still climbed the stairs each morning to bring you your breakfast, despite having lost a leg in the war. These are points of imperfection and weakness which, because they have carried you through the triumph, are suddenly more endearing then you could imagine.

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