Saturday, July 16, 2005

This Blog is going on Holiday

It is holiday time and tomorrow we fly to Vancouver to visit my sister and go camping on Vancouver Island.

Here are some pictures of the campsites we have booked:
Sproat Lake
Miracle Beach

So for a few weeks this blog will blogs will sleep.

In the meantime I will give you my recommendation for holiday reading. Inspite of its title it is not about running. It is a novel about someone who finds himself on a quest, almost by accident. Without a plan he cycles across America to identify the body of a sister initially lost through madness. He meets people who help him and others who he helps; through this he remembers the person he was before his life atrophied. Intertwined in this is the story of his sister, the love he had for her and the effect she had on the family. It is not a gloomy book - there is a lightness and humour.

I can justify the recommendation on a running blog because one of the themes is the way daily physical activity, a little at a time, can add-up to become a great endeavour, which can then reconnect you with yourself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Life goes on - it always does

This is a running blog and one of the constraint I set myself is to try to try to stay on subject, even if the link might be a bit tenuous So far it has not been a problem, and I have found things I wanted to say but between Thursday and Sunday this was not the case.

I was not personally affected by the bombings in the sense that I was nowhere near them when they went off and I know nobody who was directly involved. I am not someone who reacts to external events with great emotion and my life is much as it ever was. But, and this is rather a large but, my mental landscape was empty – like a ghost town in an old western, where the only movement is a tumbleweed blowing down the street. I had a constant sense of eerie quietness.

Thursday itself was very strange. I only knew something was wrong when colleagues phoned-in saying that they were having difficulty getting into work because the whole underground network was closed down because of power surges or a security alert. The rest of the day was spent trying to get work done with fewer people whilst constantly checking on the Internet to see more news. There was a horrible obsessiveness about reading the same things again and again to see if there was any more information. I finished about 7pm and ran to Euston (4 miles)to catch my train home. It was a most unpleasant run, where everything felt wrong. I felt wrong and the city was all wrong - theatres, bars and restaurants were closed and even Covent Garden was subdued. But I did not feel the emptiness until I got to the Euston Road. It was closed to all traffic - so still, so quiet.

It was then that I remembered the Potters Bar rail crash. On that day I had been at a meeting in an office block in the concourse of Potters Bar station. Our party was breaking for lunch, just walking down the stairs, when we heard the crump of the crash. We ran to the station and were amongst the first people there - trying in some way to help and not really knowing what to do.

When I think of what happened I don’t really remember what I saw: the broken bodies on the track, looking like puppets whose strings had been cut, or the way the carriage was wedged under the platform roof at a crazy angle. Instead I feel the stillness. Everything was quiet, disconnected and empty – and that is what I still feel inside myself. On thursday it all came back.

After that I did not want to write about running but I did want to run. So on Sunday I went back to my canal and my base run. It was leafy, beautiful and peaceful and, although it was a bit too hot and I suffered more than usual, at the end I was uplifted. My spirits were restored.

Now once again I want to write about running. The whole point of this blog is to try to record those moments when the simple act of putting one foot in front of another for a longish period of time can transform the way you feel. Make you once again feel connected. It is what I am trying to express.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A good animal

In my post ‘Running Retreat’ I mentioned that one of the objectives of running was to become a ‘good animal’ . That phrase was not mine; I found it, via George Sheehan, from this passage by Herbert Spencer:

“Emerson says of the gentleman that the first requisite is to be a good animal, and this is the first requisite for every one. A course of life which sacrifices the animal, though it may be defensible under special conditions is not defensible as a general policy. Within the sphere of our positive knowledge we nowhere see mind without life; we nowhere see life without a body; we nowhere see a full life–a life which is high alike in respect of intensity, breadth, and length–without a healthy body. Every breach of the laws of bodily health produces a physical damage, which eventually damages in some way though often in an invisible way the mental health.” (Herbert Spencer - ‘The Principals of Ethics, Vol. 1 Part III: The Ethics of Individual Life’, Ch. 5)

If it is important, and I believe it is, to look after our physical health, then it is important to know our animal nature. In the running manuals this is often glibly referred to as ‘listening to your body’ – it sounds fairly straightforward but it is not.

When we spend days sitting indoors, travelling, shopping, meeting, eating, drinking – just doing the normal things; it is very easy to become disconnected. We cannot interpret the messages. Is it an ache or a random twinge? Is that pain a message of damage or just a transitional stage, as things get stronger? Even the straightforward things are not clear. If you stand upright and close your eyes do you know that you are straight and balanced, or do you unconsciously favour one side or another, are you leaning forward or back?

Listening to your body can be a bit like being tone deaf at a concert – you know in principle what is happening but you can’t quite work out the detail.

For me part of the activity of running is learning to strip away all the rust and corrosion that has gathered around my senses and so feel myself in space. Part of that involves taking responsibility for what I do to my body and what it needs. Another part is learning to trust my basic animal nature and the wonderful machine I have inherited – finding out how strong and resilient it is, by learning and experimentation.

I do not think my body is especially wonderful (you just have to look at me to see it is not). I think all of us have great capabilities because that is how we evolved – after all our ancestors could out-run the antelope. It is that history I am trying to glimpse.

Now read how someone else has pursued that goal far more effectively than I could ever hope.