[in lieu of a prelogue: I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for the longest and have been dumb enough to keep putting it off. Now Murakami&White, two much more competent fellows, will make me look like a fool 4 trying but try I must]
RUNNING, the most primitive form of athletic exercise considered as a sport.
– 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
I do not know the exact age at which one begins to run but I guess it’s quite early, should be shortly after walking, no? First we crawl, then we sort of stagger around with our parents or uncles or adoptive parents or strangers holding our hands up for balance, at last, by ourselves, a premonition of life to come, we walk. The initial awkward freedom from gravity, the first time we attempt to assert our status as bipedals. We walk upright, we can see the Savannah for its predators. And then if we do see a leopard or other wild animals to which we appear as a walking/talking meal, why, we run. We run alright.
As children we run simply for the fun of it, to see how fast we can go, that is, to know the limits of our bodies and hopefully surpass them. It’s one of the earliest exertions of our spirit to explore, this impulsive running. You could see, say, a traffic light and simply decide to run there. Or ask your mum how long she thinks it will take you to run to that tall tree over there and then, even as you’ve already began to run, because you couldn’t wait to run, turn around still running and tell her to count or check her watch, pleeeeeeez! An infantile FARTLEK, which is a bit disingenuous because I’ve never run an actual FARTLEK. I just like the word, its complex sound and the fact that it is a runner’s word…
…or anyway, just run out of the blue until you are so out of breath that you come to a gasping, knee-clutching, lung-burning stop. The same way like when you and your brother or sister used to hold your breath for as long as possible but then at some point you couldn’t help it, not one second more and you just had to inhale, suck air into your body. But it was fun. Running, for a child is RunningRunningRunningRunning, something so immediate and self-explanatory that it does not usually fall within the ambit of the 400-questions-a-day interrogative assault, which marks childhood. The running child is not clearly aware of the fact that at some point it will have to stop running, the running child imagines that it might conceivably somehow outrun a car, it’s not impossible ~ the running child is free.
And so anyway: RUNNING…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Somewhere along the cumbersome, winding route to adulthood the liberatory, childhood significance of running often becomes obscured, estranged or even lost. Instead other, derivative, mediate aspects gain prominence: the loss of weight [aka the burning of fat, aka a more empowering version of liposuction] ~ the times&distances that confirm that one is getting either “better” or slacking or “just maintaining” and that thus reflect the power one maintains over the republic of one’s body ~ the techno-gadgetry that is cool to fiddle with [and sometimes does make it more enjoyable in a mediated way] but lacks any intrinsic connection with the action of leapingly putting one foot in front of the other in front of the one a.s.f. ~ the vainly&temporarily accelerated zooming past pedestrians and [variously despised] “walkers” who one subsequently feels morally superior to or has demonstrated one’s mighty, mighty stamina/willpower to ~ and any number of adult life anxieties about body, performance and self-image. The adult specimen has a reluctance to take things for/as what they are because it is habituated to dealing in mediations; mediations afford the semblance of power and/or safety. Things become harnessed in a framework of numbers and apparatuses and higher-order goals and all that rahrahrah. Too fucking bad. Or so it seems.
Which, despite this huge pile of possibilities of things to get in the way of the direct enjoyment of running [read fun], gets blown away as soon as the runner actually begins running. Then one is left with lope, frequency, breathing rate and the sights&sounds of one’s chosen route [in a non-competitive setting]. Plus the assorted runner’s thoughts. On which of course no generalizing statement can be made but it is interesting to point out how many a runner will claim that they are Zen-like and floating-cloud-ish, etc. while from all I can tell they can be as perfectly obsessive and anxiety-ridden as any other everyday thought. Running does not automatically replace one’s mental faculties with carefree dreaminess. However, there is a significant difference to everyday, sedentary fretting: in running I truly believe I can, temporarily, escape these speculations/thoughts/anxieties/expectations ~ I can literally run away from them: I accelerate and suddenly I’m focused on my effort, my legs, my hard-pumping heart and whatever bothered me is left in the dust of my former self-reflexive consciousness [that from a few seconds ago]. Taking this one lope further one could speculate that by giving one the opportunity to move away from neutral, unproductive self-referentiality [in a post-modern sense] it allows one to glimpse quite a different paradigm, namely a transcendental one in that the range of possibilities is widened to such as did not exist before: the NPB is a semaphore on the road to the NWO. It’s a bit like that kid that imagines it might run faster than the Audi.
And then what must be considered before one runs off in a totally tangential epistemological direction is that the course is almost always a circuit [xcept in marathons and runs from the law]. The end, no matter how hard the run, is only just the beginning [little wonder people keep popping all types of Zen similes]. Running then, IMHO, given its circulatory aspect can be an escape without being Escapism: one does not run away from one’s problem in hopes of permanently being done with them but rather with the certainty of coming back to them stronger, clearer-mind, with fortified legs to think on. The runner as the hero setting out for his mythopoeiic journey will eventually return home, richer for her monstrous encounters.
For the duration of one’s escape there is exhilaration and on the best of runs one becomes secondary to the activity itself: running. It just happens to be “The Infected One” [tbmg] running up Mount Bramberg, along Lake Lucerne, down the winding streets of the Dattenberg, etc but what actually happens is that I, as a physical person, engage in the archetypal activity of “Running” as have billions of people before across the millennia: to convey a message of singular geostrategic importance, to attempt to escape a saber-toothed tiger, to be on time for a flight that will crash into the Atlantic, to chase after a stranger who is escaping with an old lady’s wallet, to run from a scene of gunfire violence, etc. That is to say that running, interpreted as an archetypal activity, always has an element of urgency/necessity within its semantic force field. One has to run, no matter how many more than two ways there are about it. Interestingly, this is also what the frequent runner will say, that s/he “has to run”, “can’t help it”, “needed some mileage”, etc. This attitude describes Running not as something intrinsically satisfactory or de-stress-ifying but rather as compulsive behavior/addiction. But that is subject-fodder for a different post.
To muddy the waters & black-ice the road there is also the possibility of Transcendence, in as much as a surpassing of the sublunar limitations is also part of Running. There is an interval in the motion called “running” when both the runner’s feet have left the ground. For a brief moment one has transcended gravity, left behind earth and become a separate piece in the puzzle of reality. It is true, one will come back down shortly but only to leave back up again at the next step. From a tragic perspective one could say it’s like the fly trying to battle its way through the window pane; yet on the optimistic side one can almost hear the runner chant: “But try I must!” “But try I must!” “But try I must!” In this regard then if Running is the second-half of the phylogenetically hard-wired fight-or-flight response, it is flight in both of its significations: the escape without escape, the flight without flight.
Recollections from personal experience when I was a small one? I clearly recall the first time my mum bought me a pair of sneakers at my request. I even remember where the shoe store, in the same street as the cantonal prison, just below the foreboding towers of the city’s medieval outer defensive wall. Cobblestone street, spring or summer, balmy weather. I saw the grey, synthetic, double Velcro-strap Pumas and those were the ones, my mother permitting, I needed to have. I suppose I couldn’t tie my shoes yet at the time so picking the strapped ones was also a first, blind groping for independence. Whether I wanted to wear them right away? Do you not know one iota of child psychology? I will now wear these Pumas for a week straight and only take them off when I have to take my weekly bath or for clutching them to my chest when I go to bed.
And when I got out on the cobble-stoned street, how I ran. First to the road sign up at the X-ing, amazed by how much faster these grey racing shoes made me. Child subjectively. Then, after my mum caught up with me, up the street that climbed the hill towards the gated passage through the wall. It was a rush, all blurred and ecstatic.
 Running as creating new knowledge