|Little known fact: Kant won the Koenigsburg Turkey Trot 5k 5 years straight (1750-1755). Two years later an achilles injury led him to hang up the flats and turn his obsessive mind towards becoming a billiards hustler.|
This is the purpose of science, art, and also of education. The experimental method allows us to isolate concepts and test whether or not they match up well with the objects they are meant to represent. Artists experiment as well, teaching us to experience the world in new ways through painting, music, literature, film, etc. They give us new angles on sensation, allow us to feel, see, taste and hear differently. A well-developed mind is able to sense the world richly--and it also has the conceptual apparatus to be able to express and share those sensations. Intelligence, on the Kantian view, doesn't just allow us to manipulate the world better. It gives us the capacity to experience the world more fully, to live in it more deeply, and to share it with others.
This is a great story, and it is mostly true. There is a tension, however, between the conceptual work of intelligence and the aesthetic, sensitive work. We've all experienced the way in which overanalyzing experience can strip it of its vague, sensed peripheries--the "gray areas" that are not merely the excess of a concept but are rich and vital centers of experienced life. The gray areas of life are usually not gray at all. They escape intellectualism through their vibrancy and polyvalence: their inability to be captured by the rigid categories of the mind. We've also been frustrated--on the other hand--by our muteness before some of our most profound experiences. Life is buoyed by intuitions, epiphanies, and moods, most of which we can only gesture towards in language.
In running, too, there is this difficulty. Many of the best endurance athletes are able to externalize their bodies, to treat them as an object, with scientific precision. This is what Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp have been doing with Rupp's body over the course of the years. They have a 20 year plan for his development. They treat the body of Rupp with almost scientific precision, measuring its adaptation, its biochemical markers, charting a path that is aimed at athletic perfection. Though most of us who take our running more or less seriously are not nearly as relentless (or intelligent) in the scrutiny of our bodies, part of the joy of distance running is in treating one's body as an object: controlling its efforts, its fuel, its recovery, learning how it adapts, etc. In this way, we treat it as if we can truly apprehend it in itself.
|One mark of an objectified body is the removal of hair from the legs.|
It strikes me that these are two different forms of discipline, each of which we have to practice in training. On the one hand, we have to learn to externalize ourselves, to see ourselves from the perspective of a coach or another runner. Otherwise, our training lacks coherence and organization. This is where running logs and heart rate monitors and various other instruments of analysis are useful. On the other hand, we also have to practice becoming our bodies, which is something else entirely. This aspect of training has more in common with artistic practice than scientific method. The discipline of becoming the body means practicing being overwhelmed by sensation, moving with it, letting it organize you, repattern your mind and your movements. Otherwise, our training lacks freedom and creativity.
|If Rupp symbolizes the externalization of the body taken to the extreme, perhaps Henry Rono is the epitome of the runner who races and trains intuitively. Read this account of Rono racing.|
Too often these two modes of discipline are put into opposition, but running teaches us that in experience both elements are essential. The body is two types of object. It is both something other than me, and it is me. The challenge is not to choose one or the other of these relations, but to keep them both living. We feel and analyze, each in its own measure, according to its own discipline.
Perhaps if life could be reduced to the categories of the mind or the categories of sensation, we would know more fully who we are. We could attain some sort of absolute knowledge. The runner would know, through analysis, exactly how fast he could race a marathon. Salazar would know, absolutely, what Rupp can or can't do. We can't know, but this is no cause for skepticism. We can know better. The runner understands this: life is not about the knowing; it is about the trying. What the skeptic sees as a failure of the human mind, the runner sees as a chance to understand better, to become faster, to be different.
Like life, running is an adventure in uncertainty. We follow hunches and intuitions, half blindly. This is what makes intelligent analysis, when we are able to muster it, so valuable. But those moments that analysis cannot reach give us the thrill, the impulse, the doubt, and the desire that wrap us up, consume us, and carry us ever-onward.