Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Things not learned in school: the joy of running

The Gaza sprint: racing at a carnival, Gaza, 1941
I had a piece in the Canberra Times over the weekend, 'Running towards a higher level'.

Beginning with reminiscences of my high school days, it's a reminder of the pleasures of footslogging. A sample:
I am 17. I am jogging. It's the high school ''Ridge Run''. Alongside my friend, I pass main roads, dirt tracks with filthy cyclone fences, trails with Norsca deodorant conifers - and several of our classmates. They sprint, stop, then sprint, stop: an early version of high-intensity interval training, only with cigarettes at each rest. He and I just jog on, pacing one another ploddingly. 
Our best time for the five kilometre trip, still remembered after two decades of dubious adulthood, is just short of half an hour. 
On New Year's Day this year, I ran 15 kilometres from my home to Melbourne. My time was 1½ hours. In two decades of change - including one marriage, two children, several books and far too many hospital visits - my jogging speed has stayed, basically, the same. I now do sprints, and vary my pace with distance. I've jogged in Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. I've run beside my father as a child, and beside my son as a father. But the rhythm of my ''natural'' run - note the philosophical scare quotes - is oddly constant. 
This speaks to the simplicity of jogging. Yes, walking is a complicated achievement. We are one of the rare bipedal mammals. Anyone watching toddlers can testify to the precariousness of two feet. But once the craft is mastered, running comes next. Witness the easy joy of children sprinting on grass. They do not need to schedule fitness sessions between deadlines - they just run when they can, as fast as they can, until they stop. 
We are - as philosopher Mark Rowlands puts it in his excellent Running With the Pack - ''big-arsed apes,'' and footslogging is something we do naturally. It is no surprise, then, that my jogging pace is so constant. It is like a pair of well-fitting shoes; I slip into it at a moment's notice. 
The point is not that we all run well; my half-hour Ridge Run time suggests otherwise. The point is that, for all the intricate biomechanics, there is something simple and primal about running.
(Photo: George Silk, Australian War Memorial)

No comments: