Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Words for Running

Haruki Murakami wrote on what he talks about when he talks about running; but what about the words we use when we talk about it? There’s plenty to say about the fact that I’m already talking about running and not jogging. The culture wars between the two – which I’ll write about another time – perhaps go as far back as the 16th century, when someone wrote ‘sore shaking or hard iogging doth trouble the wearied body’. You can say that again.

Different languages throw up some interesting things about running. In French, cross-country is simply ‘le cross’, and therefore a cross-country runner is a ‘crossman’. This suggests that the urge to put on vests and steam round muddy fields is down from being particularly enervated that day. In Italian, endurance running is rather excellently called ‘resistenza’.

Words common to various languages also grab our attention. ‘Athletics’ derives from the Greek for competition, which seems unexciting except if we consider athletics as a kind of pure competetiveness, a competition with minimal rules or technique. It’s man against clock, man against track, man against man. It’s man against himself, not in a cringeworthy, psychological kind of way, but because your own body weight holds you back whilst that same body propels you forward.

There’s also the general category of ‘sport’, a word so common that we forget to notice it. The Latin ‘deportare’ can be found within it: not dissimular to ‘export’, ‘deportare’ means to carry off, convey away, transport, banish. It’s surely more interesting than the usual guff about a sportsman’s determination to see sport as a way of transporting or transfiguring yourself, becoming other through the line of sweat droplets left behind.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

From Pain to Runners’ High

Someone once said that ‘it’s easier to build a temple than to get a god to descend into it’. This is a useful metaphor to think about running: with the effort and the repetition, the drool and the vomit, we build and maintain a temple (see my last post on pain). But going against our quotation – I think it’s Beckett? –, in the case of running, oh boy does the god descend.

By this I don’t mean the feeling of satisfaction or contentment, the moralism of determination that is nauseating and American in equal parts. This moralism is described by an essay I read in Running and Philosophy (2007), which discusses what it calls the ‘seven Cs of success’: Conception, Confidence, Concentration, Consistency, Commitment, Character, Capacity. This is meatheadedness dressed up fancy. If this is what it is to write/think/philosophize about running, then surely it would be better to say nothing, just sticking with the saying by Sam Mussabini: ‘only think of two things - the gun and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other’.

What I mean by the – very metaphorical – god that descends into the – very metaphorical – temple is something completely different. It can be produced more simply than via the ‘seven Cs’, by simply training often and hard, and on race day, by combining a really very small amount of tactics (don’t start too fast) with a healthy dollop of wanting to beat the other guy. And it has been described as follows:

Endorphins: neurotransmitters found in the brain that have pain-relieving properties similar to morphine… Besides behaving as a pain regulator, endorphins are also thought to be connected to physiological processes including euphoric feelings, appetite modulation, and the release of sex hormones. Prolonged, continuous exercise contributes to an increased production and release of endorphoins, resulting in a sense of euphoria that has been popularly labeled ‘runners’ high’ (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001-05).