A couple of days ago I posted a clip on a social media site showing scenes from The Self Transcendence 3100 mile race, organized by the Sri Chinmoy organization. Arriving at the clip had been a roundabout route starting with Don Ritchie, the great Scottish ultra legend,leading on to 6 day races and then James E Shapiro's seminal book 'Ultramarathon', in which the author re lives his own attempt to break the US 24hour record at Crystal Palace athletics track in 1979.
The Self Transcendence 3100 mile race is the longest certified race in the world. The competitors seek to compete 5649 laps of a 0.5488 mile course in a time span of 52 days. The route takes the competitors around one single block in Queens, New York. I commented that this race must be the ultimate test of body and mind. The difficulty of running a vast distance is compounded by the enormous mental challenge of negotiating the same stretch of road for such a long period of time. This morning I received a comment on the clip from my brother.
'Soul destroying- a freak show event that is devoid of the true essence of running.'
This got me thinking. What exactly is the true essence of running?
In modern Western society people predominantly run for three differing reasons- physical health benefits, mental health benefits and financial benefits. Humans evolved to run for one reason- to catch food. No one living in the Western world runs to catch food, so surely the 'true ' essence of running has already vanished. The nearest people may get to this is what I term 'Utility running (see previous post, 'Utility running, Rodney Mullen, success is elusive.') However the number of people using running for this purpose is also severely diminished, except in the developing world. People just don't view running as a bone fide means of transport except, perhaps, for running backwards and forwards to work now and again.
The number of athletes able to use running for financial benefit is minuscule. There are opportunities to earn vast sums in distances up to the marathon, but the talent required to take advantage of these opportunities eliminate the majority. Beyond the marathon prize money is virtually nonexistent full stop. The elite runners at these distances would find it difficult to rely on it inorder to fund day to day living.
The physical benefits of running are obvious and immediate, both to the individual and the greater society as a whole. This is where most of us begin. We take up running for the physical benefits bestowed, usually to lose weight or just 'get fit'. For most who continue to run long after the physical benefits are effected, it is usually to do with the mental health benefits afforded.
It is here that things get complicated. The mind is a complex mechanism and the predominant tool in formation of individual personality traits. People think differently, like different things. While some like rock, others like country. The same is true with running. Some people like roads, some like trails. Some like the flat, others the mountains and the fells. Some like short, others long. If one were to put it to competitors in the 3100 mile race that their performances were devoid of the true essence of running, they would certainly beg to differ. Similarly, if one were to put it to competitors in The Hardrock 100 or to someone attempting a Bob Graham Round that their attempts were devoid of the true essence of running, they would also disagree.
The thing is, in areas such as this, there are no rights and wrongs. Everyone identifies their own essence. There is no ' true' essence, only your own. That is why it is so beautiful.