August 5, 2014


Whether we evolved as running creatures is an interesting debate largely because it is both of those things - interesting, and a debate. That we're evolved as bipedal apes, capable of covering prolific distances on our two feet, is not so contested. So perhaps "Born to Run" is presumptuous. Born to sprint/jog/walk, or simply Born to Move, though less catchy, would perhaps be more accurate.

(Traipsing about is a term that's fallen out of favor that I think does the topic justice, and which I'd like to see come back. Announcing my lunch break - which is really my "going for a walk break", I do try, but my quirks aside, I doubt it catches on.)

In any case, humans have moved about on two feet for as long as we've been humans, probably before, though that's a chicken/egg situation, to some extent. For likely about as long, we've contested races over some time and distance, if not for money, then perhaps for a shiny rock, a nicer cave bunk, or whatever. "Just because" has always been good enough too. Animals play in order to "practice" skills, and instill practical fitness. Human should hardly be different.

This is to say, moving about on two feet is an inherent part of the human narrative. People that run, that hike, that walk about, know this, on some level, even if they don't seek words for it. Plenty have, however, from Nietzsche, to Rousseau, Thoreau, Dickens, Snyder, ad infinitum. Some, like Japan's "Marathon Monks", give the act religious significance. (Not unlike the countless pilgrimages of history, and for that matter, present day.) Some, like today's neo-Beat soul runners, merely seem to imbue the act with such heft.

All of "this" is, I think, part of the appeal of running. It is, to some extent, a celebration of the self, but also a celebration of place, community, movement, and history. This can be Hardrock, the quintessential American mountain epic, or Six Days in the Dome, a callback to 19th century pedestrianism. (About which there's a very good new book, which I'd recommend to the historically interested.) It can be a local 5K, won in 19 minutes, or an Olympic finals. It's all just running, which is really just a brief moment of airtime away from walking. Which is, again, a very basic, fundamental thing. Perhaps the most basic and fundamental thing. Which is perhaps something, perhaps nothing.

Does that mean it matters? That it's important? I would say for me, yes. And for others as well, obviously. I've seen too much proof to say otherwise. But I don't know that I can declare anything like that unequivocally, universally. Certainly there are greater triumphs and tragedies everyday. We're reminded of these things, and when faced with the latter, anything but outright nihilism seems unjustifiably optimistic. Maybe humanity is just fucked. Maybe nothing matters.

What matters, if anything, speaking in the most broad sense, is a question for philosophers, who were and are, as has been established, themselves bipedal ramblers. Whether their solutions have ever been satisfactory, or whether there ever could be such a thing, I'd argue that, at the very least, their methods were sound, that traipsing about is a key to finding answers, if not The Answer. Capable and free movement of the body is not a strictly necessary condition for similarly capable and free movement of the mind, but history and present day both suggest it probably does help.

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