“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.