Not so long ago, in response to my telling him I had been running for the past two hours of the day, a friend responded with the ever witty, never funny, “Who was chasing you?”
I was reminded of that exchange this week when I happened to hear the story of Diane Van Deren, the ultra runner who started running to combat her seizures and whose surgery to remove the part of her brain that was causing those seizures took away her ability to conceive of the relative nature of time. Having no sense of the passage of time, Van Deren just keeps running. Those moments the rest of us have when our brains tell us we’ve run long enough, we’ve run too far, we have too far still to go, are completely foreign to her.
This got me to thinking about ultra runners in general. Are they simply programmed differently than the rest of us? The women and men who lace up the shoes and run 50 or 100 miles or more able to do so because of something in their brains that we just don’t have? Or is it something we have that they don’t? Many of the ultra runners I know, for example, are recovering addicts. Did their youthful transgressions chip away at a piece of their brains that would otherwise tell them to stop running at a reasonable point?
Not wanting to resort to heavy drug use or have part of my gray matter removed from my skull, I wonder if there is a way to train your brain to get into the zone Van Deren describes, where she only remembers the last few steps she’s taken and can only imagine the next few she will take.
And all of this leads me back to my friend’s not funny attempt at running humor. Evolutionarily we are all runners. We had to be, because the food was running away from us and things that thought we were food were chasing us.
I have a completely unsupported theory that says we are all running from something. Something is chasing us all the time, and that is why we keep going.
My most productive running period was during a particularly dark and challenging time of my life. I was very definitely running from the circumstances that were causing that darkness. I realize this is a very pessimistic take on distance running, and I realize that it would be just as easy to spin it as running to something rather than running from something, but I am curious about it. Were our ancestors running away from the predators or running toward the prey? Is one instinct more imperative than the other? Think about that for a minute. Are we more efficient, effective runners when we are being chased or when we are chasing? Tapping into the right instinct might help us be better runners. I, for one, hope that the answer isn’t in the flight instinct, because I don’t want to have to sustain negativity in order to promote better running.
New Year: New Goals
Yours truly met a couple of his running goals this year. I finished an ultra, I logged more miles than last year (1,276 when this was written), and I stayed mostly healthy. Not bad.
Now I am faced with the new year and I need a new set of goals. I’m still developing my list, but I want your ideas to help me plan 2013. Follow me on Twitter @GregVanBelle or visit the Real Running page on Facebook and let me know what goals you would like to see me set and meet (or not) in the coming year.