Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Running: "a glimpse of what it means to be alive and to be happy for it"

The joy of hill sprints (after the nausea)
A few months ago, in the pages of The Australian, I reviewed Mark Rowlands' excellent Running With the Pack, a philosophical meditation on running. I called it "an articulate, erudite and often moving celebration of exercise's existential rewards."

Since November of last year, I've also been writing a book tentatively entitled How to Exercise Intelligently, for Pan Macmillan UK's 'The School of Life' series.

Recently these interests came together. Mark and I were interviewed by Amanda Smith on ABC Radio National's 'The Body Sphere'. Alongside the radio program, Amanda has written a short essay outlining some of Mark's and my ideas. A sample:
Mostly Rowlands runs long distances independent of the formal structure of public races, but decided simply out of interest to register for the Miami marathon. A calf injury two months beforehand meant he'd barely run at all in the lead-up to the race. As he puts it, he just showed up and picked up his race package to keep his options open. With the same attitude, he found himself at the starting line embarking on the 26 mile (42 kilometre) distance with the pack. 
'I started struggling around the 14–15 mile mark and it got worse and worse.' 
Hitting the wall, however, led to a philosophical awakening. 
'I have all these reasons to stop, but still they can't make me stop.' 
Rowlands believes this is what the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre calls the purest experience of freedom that's possible for creatures like us. 
'The freedom consists of the fact that I am beyond the authority of reasons.' 
The Australian philosopher Damon Young has had similar experiences with ecstatic exercise. He says that what gets you started on an exercise regime as an adult isn't necessarily what keeps you going. In his own case, he says 'I just realised I was getting old and fat, and part of having children was that sense of seeing myself in the future as a parent and wanting to be active and fit.' 
Somewhere along the way though, the instrumental reasons started to fall away. 
'The joy you have going for a run is not for anything, it's just a glimpse of what it is to be alive and to be happy for it.'

Still on the topic of sport and exercise, I also had a column in the Canberra Times today, talking about the vitriol spat at Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli.

In 'Spectator vitriol exposes real losers off court', I'm detailing the particular beauty of sport, and how best to enjoy it. A sample:
Sport, like all crafts, involves training. Not only as competitors, but also as spectators. It takes almost no skill to enjoy the sight of a beautiful face. But it takes months, perhaps years, to enjoy the sight of a well-timed drop shot with backspin; to savour the combination of speed, agility, patience and precision in Bartoli’s brutal backhand along the line, or match-winning ace. Often this comes from learning to play the game ourselves – slowly realising how clumsy and awkward we are. Most obviously there is the difference, introduced by philosopher Gilbert Ryle, between ‘‘knowing that’’ and ‘‘knowing how’’. We all know that an ace is an unreturned serve – but we do not know how to do it for match point, in a grand slam, after more than an hour of top-tier play. In other words, lazy dilettantes are not connoisseurs.  It often takes the amateur’s humility to enjoy watching a sport: otherwise we miss the intense, immense effort required to play well.
(Photo: Michael Regan/Getty

1 comment:

Anthony said...

Hi Damon,

Arh yes - the lows and highs of sprinting! I just came back from a run myself. I noticed how my thinking changed over the run (similar to what Mark Rowland talked about in regards to his "running mates" - the 4 great philosophers).

Great podcast on The Body Sphere (ABC Radio) the other day Damon; you raised some great points. Good to hear (listed to it 3 times so far).

I have been "working out" consistently for the past couple of decades - to go with thinking (and writing) about the mental/physical/spiritual impact on our bodies, mind and lives that exercise and playing and mastering sports has(golf is "the sport" in my case).

Being a personal trainer, I often think about the extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation that is in all of us; obviously many PT clients have low intrinsic motivation when it comes to exercise (even though they can be "self motivators" when it comes to business or something else).

If you want any insights or ideas for your book about golf in the zone let me know, and the same goes for the philosophy of exercise.

Anthony Procopis