Showing posts from October, 2009

The Body and Our Obsessions

Life today pays too much attention to the body and therefore, too little.

We are acutely aware of how our bodies are perceived by others. We know and obsess over whether our bodies are fat or skinny. We compare them to images in popular media. How we occupy our bodies determines our social position. We hold ourselves upright, or we slouch. We feel intensely whether bodies are beautiful or ugly, young or old. Our bodies mark our social class, our sexuality, our race, our gender. We worry about how they smell, what size clothes they wear, how wrinkled they are, and what they say about us. Our bodies tell others whether we are disciplined or lazy, conventional or rebellious, athletes or couch potatoes.

For all of these reasons, we obsess over our bodies and the bodies of others. Our bodies, perhaps more than our voices, our thoughts, or even our families and friends are the great communicators of our selves. Lulu and I went to see Giselle at the Nashville Ballet this weekend and witnesse…

The Tempo Run as Art

A tempo run is a balancing act. The challenge that a tempo run demands is simple: find the fastest pace you can run with the least effort. The best description of the effort is an oxymoron. You go "comfortably hard."

Some more tough-minded folk try to take the art out of tempo running by linking it to heart rate (160 or so) or certain physiological thresholds in the body (the favorite here is lactic threshold, but sometimes aerobic threshold is mentioned), or even a pace: 10 mile race pace is a favorite. But the tempo run does not denote a concrete object or measurable event that takes place in the body. The tempo run is a discipline. Tempo is an art of balancing pace with effort.

It is precisely for this reason that the tempo run is the most important workout that a runner can do. The tempo teaches you to pay attention. A runner can do one of two things when approaching the paradoxical state of comfortably hard. There are two ways to keep the effort from spinning out of contr…

Is Running Logical?

Is running logical? Well, it depends on what we mean by logical.

Logic has come to connote a kind of hard and cold objectivity. Computers are logical. Arguments are logical. College professors are logical. Political blowhards are illogical. Young children are illogical. And spouses are either too damn logical or totally irrational.

This conception of logic takes it to be something that operates independent of passion and emotion. Logic uses universal and objective reasons, which are ordered under the laws of thought and do not allow for absurd conclusions or the possibility of contradiction. On this conception of logic, to write on "the logic of long distance" means spelling out in reasons that are universally available, clear, and well ordered, an account of why it is that long-distance runners do what they do.

If you've been following this blog with the hope of finding such an account, it is likely that you have been disappointed. This is because I am alluding to a differ…

The Reptilian Brain

"Run with your reptilian brain, run with your reptilian brain."
These were the only thoughts I could manage. It was 25 miles into the race, and I was facing 6 more--which happened to be uphill, up a mountain. Not so bad: this is what I'd signed up for. What was bad was that I didn't have any more sugar in my system. Glucose, they call it, is the sweet fuel that is the material condition of all those thoughts running through your brain. And it had all been burned out of my system in the previous three hours of rocks, roots, hills, trail.

Before that point, the race had gone exceptionally well. Running with long-time friend Andy, we had maintained a steady effort at around 4:10 pace, letting three runners go off the front. At the first check in, 6 miles into the race, they had a 5 minute lead on us--but we were at 4:00 pace. Either they were running 3:30, or they'd be coming back quick.

Rolling into Indian Rockhouse the first time.

At the next check in, mile 11 or so, …