The French philosopher Michel Foucault writes that "experience is trying to reach a certain point in life that is as close as possible to the 'unlivable,' to that which can't be lived through. What is required is a maximum of intensity and a maximum of impossibility at the same time."
When he made this statement, it was as a response to phenomenology, which is the philosophy of experience: the sort of philosophy that looks to describe the ordinary experience of everyday life. Phenomenology is perhaps best captured by Husserl's demand to "return to the things themselves." Phenomenology as a practice of wisdom and truth thought its mission was to describe the reality of the events of ordinary life.
Running blogs can be read as rough phenomenological treatises. Their authors attempt through a variety of styles and genres such as the race report or the training plan or the setting of goals to articulate their experience of running. What makes much of this effort at articulation somewhat repetitive, tedious, and self-absorbed (count the number of times that the pronoun "I" makes its appearance in your standard running blog entry) is that most bloggers misunderstand the nature of experience: they think that it can be animated by certain schema that have been defined and determined in advance.
The primary schema that pretends to organize experience, but actually militates against it, is the idea of the process of steady improvement towards a goal race. We see the runner struggle through mild setbacks, through battles with motivation, time constraints, pernicious and vile bodily functions, and the ongoing specter of aches and pains, but we know all along that these are merely plot devices intended to carry out the main story, which is one of triumph at the goal race. This triumph in turn redeems and makes meaningful any and all of the struggles along the way.
In this way the experience of running is tamed, tranquilized, and essentially anesthetized. It is made intelligible and wrapped up into the larger myths of our essentially progressive and individualistic culture: we are here for the purposes of self-betterment, any difficulties along the way are merely tests of that larger project, and we are capable of building better selves by putting our heads down every day and working steadily even if absolutely blindly at whatever project life throws our way. Running is reduced to a sounding board for the dominant cultural mythology, yet another tabula rasa upon which culture incessantly scrapes its tired ideas.
When this happens, running is not an experience at all. Experience, contrary to the popular view does not just happen. It is possible to live for weeks, months, even years without experiencing anything at all. We only experience to the extent that the experience itself breaks through the monotonous drone of normality. This is what Foucault means: experience is an effort to break through, to carry life to the point at which it is unlivable, and there, in the purity of the rupture of the normal, to find life quite strange, and uncanny, pinned and struggling and wild.
If running is not to be simply the repetition of the normal, if it is not simply narcissistic and self-indulgent, it must work patiently, yes, and madly, yes, towards the obliteration of the incessant vision of the progressive and heroic self that plagues our lives. It is only in such obliteration that experience shows itself: in those moments when the world shifts and whirls and our own selves become not heroic but absolutely alien, trotting aimlessly down the empty pavement. Or when the effort is impossible and yet still gives despite our intents to stop, there at the maximum horrifying intensity. Only there is the experience: there alone is the possibility of renewal. Everything else is tired and brutal mimicry.
This is what I mean (see particularly 1:13-1:30):