October 03, 2011

The Manliness of the Long-distance Runner

Don’t talk to me about jogging. Jogging is for memories, not for bodies. Jogging is to running as slow-walking with ski poles is to hiking. Jogging says, ‘I could do more than this, but I’m lazy’. It’s not about speed – everyone needs to find their pace – it’s about attitude. Tarting yourself up in go-faster stripes and prancing around the streets bespeaks a wilful vanity. Jogging is plainly ridiculous.

Running is about intent. At a minimum, it is about health maintenance. After that one can imagine all kinds of goals, from the 5k race for charity to some Herculean super marathon. But running is also about process, discipline, and mental fortitude. Anybody who runs invariably spends a good deal of time with himself, listening to his body’s complaints and overruling them; wading through memories, plans, conversations, and scenarios real and invented. If you were to appear alongside a me in full flow and say hello, chances are this would seriously disturb my concentration, like waking me from a dream, alerting me to the screaming in my calves and the pounding in my chest. I would seriously resent you for that, and that’s why I don’t run with other people.

But it’s never lonely. In order to push through the barriers set by our bodies – bodies that are weak and sedentary and accustomed to Western decadence – one must involve the mind in a dialogue, or a war, with the corporeal self. For every runner you see, there is another inside. The body always wants to stop. The mind either capitulates or it defies. The true runner defies.

One definition of manliness might be ‘mind over matter’. When the task at hand causes an instinctive bodily response that tells the brain ‘I can’t’, the response ‘wanna bet?’ bespeaks manliness. It calls forth a deeper reserve, an extra gear, an iron will. And once this is habitual then the mind finds a new level of freedom. Ask any serious runner and they’ll tell you that they sort out the world in their minds on long runs. Ten miles into a marathon, a man really begins to think. The body, docile and servile, functions by itself.

To joggers: stop it and get real.


  1. Jogger: "I once ran a marathon in under 5 hours."
    Anyone with any sense: "Ran?"

  2. If only I could keep a decent run going...I tend to fall in the ridiculous jogger category. Actually, it's more walking for me than anything, because asphault is not forgiving to my poor knees. But, hats off to the runners - I admire their ability. :)

  3. T.E.: Quite.

    JMW: Continuing to exercise through discomfort already sets you apart from all joggers. Get properly fitted for shoes, if you haven't already. That might help the knees. And I keep hearing about these 5-finger thingies, which are also supposed to make you run more naturally and take the pressure of the joints.

  4. Oh my dear, joggers became "runners" when those of you who do that silly thing thought they were "athletes"-- it was a silly ego thing. Which is clear from your post. You're not a runner. You have not competed on the international amateur (as opposed to taking up the road when the real athletes are there)/pro level. You are a jogger. Learn some (cultural) history.

  5. Anonymous,
    Thank you for this deeply engaging Freudian analysis. Thank you also for the exhortation to learn some cultural history. I shall bear this in mind when I return to my job as a cultural historian on Monday.

    Clearly you know me very well in order to make your pronouncements. If only you'd left a name. We could have arranged to meet at the track and discuss old times.

    Do come back soon and brighten our day, won't you?


  6. Thanks VB,
    I'll cling on with my claws and be back soon.

  7. Look forward to your post when you're post 50 and have had two knee surgeries. Hint: things that are used get worn out.

  8. Oh what a joy it must be to be you. Better rein in that wit, lest you wear it out.


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