|A big-arsed ape after a sprint|
Rowlands' book is an intelligent and very personal defence of the existential value of running: its capacity to realise the intrinsic value of life.
This argument works for many exercises and sports, but there is a primal vitality to running, which has to do with our physiology: we are, as Rowlands notes, "big-arsed apes".
(Some of us bigger than others.)
If you are a thinker and a jogger, this is a book for you. A sample:
Regular runners will recognise Rowlands's descriptions of torture and bliss, such as his hill sprint in Ireland:
. . . the hard part is to keep going now, keep driving those legs as the lactic fire spreads outwards and is eventually replaced by a pervasive numb deadness . . . Finally the nausea . . . is replaced with warm triumph.
Running, Rowlands argues, is not joyful because it helps us win medals, catch the bus or avoid muggers. "Joy is the recognition that something is worth doing for its own sake."
Of course running can be useful, keeping off the kilograms and keeping us a few steps ahead of depression's black dog. But ultimately, Rowlands points out, these victories over pain and decay are brief. We are, like all living things, doomed: to craving, pain and, sooner or later, annihilation.
Running, by giving us a "whisper" of life lived for its own sake, not for the sake of survival or status, is a reminder of why it is still better to be alive than dead. In the meditative rhythm of left foot and right foot, breath in and breath out, we are neither chasing some end outside the run nor using the run as a means to simple pleasure.
"Running is the embodied apprehension of intrinsic value in life," Rowlands writes. Children and animals comprehend this straightforwardly, but adults often need reminders: exercise, games and sports.