Monday, 14 December 2009

I have a habit when I read of folding over corners that I think at some stage I might want to go back to. Obviously I very rarely do, but just on occasion...
Last night was one such moment. I decided to have a little look back over Born to Run, and came across this beautiful quote:
How do you flip the internal switch that changes us all back into the Natural Born Runners we once were? Not just in history, but in our own lifetimes. Remember? Back when you were a kid and you had to be yelled at to slow down? Every game you played, you played at top speed, sprinting like crazy as you kicked cans, freed all, and attacked jungle outposts in your neighbours’ backyards. Half the fun of doing anything was doing it at record pace, making it probably the last time in your life you’d ever be hassled for going too fast.

That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle – behold, the Running Man…

But the American approach – ugh. Rotten at its core. It was too artificial and grabby, Vigil believed, too much about getting stuff and getting it now: medals, Nike deals, a cute butt. It wasn’t art; it was business, a hard-nosed quid pro quo. No wonder so many people hated running; if you thought it was only a means to an end – an investment in becoming faster, skinnier, richer – then why stick with it if you weren’t getting quo for your quid?

This to me has resonations throughout the world at the moment. Everything must be measured and analysed, usually so its worth can be quantified in monetary terms. But what runners know(and I don't mean just elite runners - in fact, they're most likely to have forgotten), and know perhaps better than anyone else in the world, is that some things are valuable just for themselves. This knowledge is what makes two such seemingly different people as Scott Jurek and Arnulfo Quimares (two of the heroes of Born to Run, pictured above) fundamentally similar, in a way that belies the cultural context of their lives, and is rooted in a deeply spiritual attitude to the world. You can see it in their faces. Beautiful, isn't it?

Monday, 7 December 2009

One step at a time

In changing the world, as in endurance sport, it pays to take things one step at a time... and I think I was getting a bit ahead of the game with the British Council thinking.

Flow, as this fantastic book describes it, is something close to the essence of the true joy of sport, and a pre-condition is focusing completely on the task in hand. It is not all about winning - but equally, it is not about enjoying the view. It is about the perfect match of effort with challenge, the rubbing up of an individual against his or her individual limits. To reach this state, the action in question becomes the only thing there is... I recognise this deeply from my own experience, most recently from the swim in the Ironman, where the rhythm of my swimming became in some sense the whole of me. I was, for that period of time, a swimming creature, with no space or capacity to be otherwise. This is the purity of sport, this is its joy. The ability to be totally at one.

Of course, you don't have to be an eco athlete to achieve this. But I do wonder if it can make the sensation more authentic. It seems logical to me that there is an element of absorption in nature in this feeling - and it would therefore make sense that the fewer man-made barriers between you and nature, the purer that feeling, that joy can be.