“People Who Say That Running Is Fun Are Lying to You,” Outside Online recently had to claim.
I’d still say that I do it for fun, but in the process, maybe I took things a little too easy.
The case that got me thinking about individual experience and the need for some “self-experimentation” – see my post on The N = 1 of Life Advice – came almost literally from a case… From samples of Pure Encapsulation’s Daily Immune (Immune Active, as it’s called in Europe) supplement, that is.
Supplements in the form of multivitamins had, not that long ago, been the subject of a scientific analysis regarding their efficacy. The result: It’s all a waste of money.
For most people with an averagely healthy diet – or let’s make that an averagely diverse diet, because there probably isn’t much of a need for what most people would consider especially and particularly healthy foods, either – multivitamins are probably unnecessary.
Share that insight, though, and you are more than likely to be met with a lot of resistance.
Who eats a healthy diet nowadays?! Surely a little bit of an insurance against deficiencies is not a bad thing?! Can’t they just leave us feeling better for just a little money?!
These, certainly, were the kinds of comments I encountered when I shared that research.
I myself am a person who hardly ever takes even an aspirin, so I’d tend to concur.
Then I went to a Foodblogger camp, and I heard people react in the usual way foodies do when there were those ‘pills’ there. The opinion I overheard was a “What do those drug-pushers think; as if you’d need such artificial supplementation when you can just eat a diverse diet!”
The supplement sample was interesting, though.
There are some extracts of supposedly helpful plants in it, including some I had or have been growing myself such as Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus, Wu-jia-pi), which is supposed to have adaptogenic/tonic properties.
There is Vitamin D, which my sports doctor highly recommended I should supplement (having checked my levels of it).
There was the zinc often enough lauded as helpful for the immune system.
As these things go – read my article on the n=1 of life advice and go on learning about science from there – I can’t say that anything I experienced has to hold true for anybody else.
I can’t even be certain, given that I’m only one person and I’ve only had one winter’s experience, that my own experience will hold true even a second winter.
But, I can say that I used that Daily Immune / Immune Active supplement throughout the winter, and it was the first winter that I never caught a cold. My wife did, and the winters before, we always managed to infect each other.
Not this winter, a.k.a. flu season.
This is definitely not medical advice, nor even anything more than one person’s anecdotal experience of one single winter – but it’s enough that I think supplements (and diets) may be some of the best cases for the n=1 argument:
Assume that what holds true for the average holds true for you and be critical – but also check (in all things medical, with your doctor) if maybe something not-average will be the case with you.
If you want to try out Pure Encapsulations, have a look at their range of products e.g. at Pharmaca – and yes, this is an affiliate link; nothing was sponsored unless you count the samples I got from them, though. In fact, at the moment, you can’t even get the same Daily Immune / Immune Active I used at that link.
As much attention as “paleo” has received as the latest fad diet, the people who are looking into its basic tenet as a guide to what a human is meant to experience – how we are to live, not just to eat – are much fewer.
It may be understandable only too easily.
“Do you want us to go back to the Stone Age?!?” is a popular reaction to e.g. environmentalists’ calls for degrowth and to remember lessons from earlier times, after all – and surely we wouldn’t want to literally live like cavemen.
That said, if you believe that maybe we are not physiologically well-adapted to eating modern foodstuffs (yet), it is all the more likely that we are not adapted to many other modern conditions.
How we are not at home in our bodily being is one of the fundamental ways we are not “at home:” We think of “our bodies” when that is, in fact, what we are before we even develop a sense of self, remain even if we lose our mind, and always are as an integrated whole.
One particularly good case in point is our understanding of our hearts and heart rate in running.
St. John’s Day, as in: Midsummer Day, the day of the summer solstice, is almost upon us.
It will be the time for mountain solstice fires again, then, and fittingly for both that day and climate change, St. John’s Wort has just come into bloom here, already.
Having looked towards FKT as “fully known trails / terrain,” I have reason to look back at everything that I had encountered during the recent ‘trails of spring’ (#1: Winter’s Last Hold at the Traunsee, #2: Wild Leeks in the Leitha Mountains)
Flowers, pretty as they often are and useful as plants can be, have been among the prominently noteworthy things.
In making plant diversity more obvious in all their many colors and pretty shapes, flowers are good illustrations of the lack of at-home-ness we often have: They are obviously there, they are obviously all different – but how many do you recognize?
And if you want to argue that there is just no need to do so, let me ask what’s the need to recognize different brands of cars or clothes when you can’t eat them, can’t use any but your own, and won’t even interact with the vast majority of people who use them, so that the social cues inherent in them aren’t of any effect.
At least you could enjoy seeing the flowers and knowing what they are; and in knowing them, you could probably find some that could be used as food or tea or medicine, too.
And simply knowing the places you live more intimately, from the roads to the trails, from historic buildings to blades of grass, makes for a different – and better – connection with life.
In all the connected technology and social media connection all around the world, we are all too little connected to the places where we actually are, anyways.
But of course, as a human being, everything that moved was more noticeable also to me; the closer to potential prey or predator, the more so.
The sheep grazing not far from the road just recently struck my eye,…
…as did the mountain goats using the trails as their paths through the still-snowy landscape of a month or two before.
There were also other things.
Not just small animals such as the fire salamander trying to hide away between stones…
…but also more and more flowers. The ones that started emerging just as soon as the snow was melting, and the ones that only came up much later, now that we are moving closer to summer…
Of course, there is much more to be seen than I took photos of; and there is a lot that could be said about them all.
There are commonalities, such as the wild leeks (ramson) that grow in both the Pannonian landscape of the Burgenland I usually live in and the Salzkammergut part of the Alps I regularly visit to run mountain trails, and there are differences between these two areas.
In fact, there are differences just between different mountains and different faces of a single mountain, between the woody hills and the agricultural floors of the same flat landscape.
It’s just a matter of making oneself at home in these places enough to notice it all.
You get older and, even in these times of a supposed refusal (or failure) of people to grow up, you stop playing.
Computer games may still be somewhat okay; card or board games are accepted if you are in the fitting circles; some sports activities are seeing a lot of support… but simply running around, exploring your surroundings, climbing trees, balancing over poles is looked at askance. “You a child or something?!”
In fact, the “adult” world has been encroaching onto childhood to such an extent that not even children are supposed to be active like that anymore.
“Sit still!” is the newly-resurgent admonition all-too-often leveled at children; letting them even just walk to school by themselves has, in places, been taken as neglect. And then we wonder, in an environment full of sugary temptations and lacking in opportunities for physical activity, why obesity is an increasing problem.
Let’s get back to adults, though.
We are the models and the ones who should be growing up – and shouldn’t growing up entail some understanding of the needs of a body, as well as the opportunity to create the conditions good for us?
I think it should, and I think we would all do better if we remembered that and didn’t just grow older, but better.
Obesity is not just a problem of children, after all; and even normal-weight people are not necessarily any fitter than heavier ones – but what do we think of playgrounds?
It’s interesting to look at different places.
China, for example, has similar ideas as ‘the West’, of fitness being something for the younger people and a certain rotundity being a sign of success in older men.
However, China also has something of a traditional physical culture for people who are growing older, not least with tai ji quan.
Now, with a more affluent and aging population and the pressure this puts on the health care system, there are some similar issues as we see in ‘the West’, too – but there are also all those “adult playgrounds” that, whether they were already planned for older people or not, are being used by them a lot.
It’s one of the biggest challenges for health systems, and it is being discussed a lot in the context of that.
What about the other, much more personal, side to it, though?
By accepting the half-truth that you will decline as you age, you make yourself decline much more than you would otherwise, and it costs a lot in terms of your very own quality of life.
Remaining active, both physically and mentally, is one of the (if not the) main differences that make for a difference in how you will age, badly or well – and it’s good at all ages. Fact “is that the human body adapts positively to well-managed training stress … regardless of age. Age is not the limiting factor. The desire to perform at a high-level and make the necessary sacrifices to do so is.”
It’s not necessarily sacrifice, though, when you manage what you do well – and fun.
The story he tells is quite fascinating, but the pointers he gives to various practices and skills that one can gain and profit from, from parkour to foraging, are an even greater (and more necessary) concern for a future with some serious fun.
It is one of the great things about us that we have such a rich life of the mind.
Sure, we may be misled by it, ending up fighting over ideologies when we’d really much rather get along, falling victim to stories we tell ourselves of how life is, other people were, and we ourselves are… “You’re Not So Smart” (both book and podcast) is an excellent resource on that.
But, we can also learn. Beyond the abilities of all other animals, we can imagine, anticipate, ponder, and study things.
In thinking about ourselves and our minds, however, we keep talking of “our bodies” as something separate from the brain, and completely different from the mind.
“I think there are limits [in ultra-distance running]… but I don’t think anyone actually ever reaches theirs.”
Anton Krupicka in Kilian’s Quest S04E05.
For training and gear testing – and of course, for the fun of it – I found myself running around the lakeside road to ‘my mountain’ (the Traunstein) again.
It was a nice-enough day with a lull in the worse weather that had been moving in.
With an insulating layer and a Windstopper top, what I wore felt rather too warm.
One week before, the temperatures had been even higher, the sun was shining, hardly any snow was visible any more, lots of people were out and about on that beautiful day.
A mother with a twin stroller, running on the lakeside road? Check.
Two old men already coming down the mountain that morning? Check.
Young hikers out for a day of fun? You betcha.
Spring was definitely arriving, between the sunshine and the flowers.
That was then. The week later, it still seemed a nice-enough day, but more of a dusting of snow on the upper reaches of the Traunstein was proof of the worse weather that had started moving in.
Getting higher up the mountain, whose top kept itself shrouded in clouds, the expected wind kicked up, too.
Only that it pretty soon was enough wind that the two layers that had just seemed too warm started feeling too cold; out came the windproof/waterproof jacket and pants that have become my constant companions on such tours.
And still, looking around, listening to the wind, noticing some snow start to fall, it was not enough for me.
A man whom I’d seen at the foot of the mountain came past me as I’d decided to turn back, and of course I didn’t like turning back when someone else went on – but it’s just this sort of social comparison and ego-kick that gets us in trouble. Turn back I did.
Not doing anything isn’t the best thing for growth, of course.
Doing will lead to comparison, however, and that may make for some dangerous challenges.
Even on the nice day a week before, I had noticed that.
Compare yourself to those who are really fast, and you may feel like you belong in a wheelchair.
Walk past hikers, and you feel pretty okay with yourself.
And now, with social media, comparison has all the worse a context, especially upwards to the truly extraordinary people.
The only solution, same as it’s always been: If you are not among the best and greatest who have to compete, retreat from the competition.
Be(come) good enough and better, living for yourself.
(As I said before, at least sometimes, “winning is for losers.”)
Know when to pull back to keep yourself safe and go on another day; be happy not in comparison to others but with what you are able to do.
Having gone once across to, over and around the mountain, and back, and then still having been able to head right on to the train back to my wife – that had made me happy.
Having felt the need to turn back even as I could have gone on (and saw someone else do so) this time, that left me feeling daunted by the mountain, especially as a bit more sunshine would break through the clouds as I was on my way back.
It was only a wee bit of sunshine, though, and at least I got on my way back, not stuck in cold and wind up a mountain, which could just as well have been the case.
Becoming at home means both drawing back, making oneself comfortable, and pushing at boundaries, growing.
And here lies an interesting insight from recent science:
“Ego” – that is, willpower – apparently becomes “depleted” as we use it.
So, the more you force yourself to do something, to act in a certain way, and the more you simply have to make decisions, the weaker your power over yourself will become.
Choices such as what to have for breakfast are enough to drain ‘ego’ a bit; by afternoon, you just reach for the worst kind of quick sugar fix.
It doesn’t matter if the choices are inconsequential or important, they all require an effort that the brain will start to have trouble with.
Interestingly, there is an insight from the seemingly physiological side of things that sounds related:
When we feel that we just can’t go on, e.g. running, it may not actually be the muscles that are fatigued to the point of not working anymore, apparently.
Rather, it is our brains triggering a survival mechanism, looking to conserve some energy in case we should still need it later.
In both cases, choices (to make, or just the choice to go on) are necessary, and our mental household of energy is the decisive factor for how this will fall.
To a large extent, our conscious minds may be contributing (and we can learn to override some of these processes), but the real decision falls outside of its purview.
Rationality looks like it plays a role, but its main role may well be to rationalize the decision that came about at a deeper level.
“Hypo-egoic” behaviors that don’t need such willpower because they have become ingrained in us, though, can go on – and we see that in running, where it’s necessary to forget the ego and just become motion if we want to go on at a certain point.
This is also, and more usually, the point of habits.
Make something a habit, and it will happen on cue and without a conscious, rational, energy-draining decision about it being necessary.
Just try to make sure you create good habits for yourself, be they going out for regular runs, turning back when things get too dicey, or regularly cooking good food, not flopping down in front of the TV with a beer when you really, really, would love to make more in and of your life…
FKT, “fastest known times,” may be the oldest running idea that no one has ever heard of.
The challenge of being faster than someone, or preferably everyone, else has surely been around for long, and if it wasn’t in head-to-head competition, it was in how long it took someone to cover the distance from one point to another.
Having moved online, info-wise, the notion got new feet.
Peter Bakwin started his list of FKTs a decade ago; FKTs were discussed years ago; and with Kilian Jornet’s “Summits of My Life” and other people’s mountain speed ascents – not to mention the various thru-hike records – they have come further into the spotlight.
As much as one can talk of a spotlight when it comes to an activity, FKT, that is a small part of an overarching activity, thru-hiking or ultra-distance running, that is not exactly receiving the most attention. (How many hikers, outside of Cheryl Strayed or her movie-adaptation version, let alone ultramarathoners, can the average person name?)
Still, the idea is simple enough: pick a trail or a mountain ascent (and descent) and try to finish it in a record time.
So far, so good – but in a sports practice that is, at heart, a very individual and intimate pursuit – (mountain) trail running – this idea leads things to unfortunate, if logical, conclusions:
When everything is always just about extremes, you always need more extreme feats. And you need simple measures by which to present them, or it wouldn’t all fit into a single tweet or a share-able headline.
So, if you want to get back to a certain individuality in your pursuit, and therefore away from ultramarathon races (or if you have won only too many of them…), this is a way to do so while still achieving something that can be easily measured and pointed to, and is an easily visible and shareable feat.
If you are a runner who is as much at the top of his game as Kilian Jornet (and he’s so at the top, he makes it all look like a game), this goes to such an extreme that it makes for the “FKT-up” headline I am riffing on; Christopher McDougall used this phrase in Outside Magazine/Online to point out just how crazy some of it all was… and Jornet is aiming to even speed-ascend (and descend, for good measure) Mount Everest.
It is all very much in the spirit of extremization.
It is all about doing things and saying things in such a way as to bring them to extremes which make for messages that quickly and easily appeal to emotions. Hence, they can be shared in headlines and tweets and will be liked and shared a lot, making for visibility and popularity.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure Kilian isn’t very much (which is to say: not at all) motivated to do this for the “likes” – and even if you should be, it may not be the worst thing to happen by far, if it is motivation to learn and grow.
“Extremized” activities like that, however, do often make for superficiality.
The way one hears about them and the people that perform them, it is only that one feat that counts, not the path that led there.
The extraordinary person is held up as hero-like, but is at a level which hardly anyone could achieve, which seems mainly based on innate talent, and which is, therefore, not necessarily all that motivating.
The time counts, and only the fastest time, everything else is just preparation that doesn’t matter – except it’s in the preparation, in the moving and the discovery that goes with it, that the most valuable of experiences lie.
When the speed, the time, is presented as the important thing – or maybe even just, as some would claim, not as the important thing, truly, but just the thing to do the marketing with – we are giving in to the extremization. We feed a machine of shallow attention that demands instant gratification and betray what we go out onto trails to discover.
The simple pleasure of motion, and motion that leads to discovery.
A pursuit that is certainly harder than simply lounging in front of the TV and waiting for great views to be brought to one’s eyes, but that is all the more worthwhile for it.
A preparation for better fitness that is also a pleasurable pastime.
A foundation for everyday heroism.
And a way of learning about a place.
This last bit, in particular, is the one I want to call for.
There is so much to learn about and discover wherever you are, and in combining physical pursuits – to range across an area – and psychological ones – to discover and learn – we are doing what humans (like many, if not most animals) have always done: Go out and “learn our place,” from the lay of the land to the resources available, from dangerous spots to beautiful sights.
Sure, the internet world will not praise you the highest for the ordinary things you’ll see and learn. But in seeing and learning, you can make yourself at home in the places you live, make yourself more fit, knowledgeable, and useful, and get to really living there, intimately, fully knowing the terrain, wherever it is that you are.
And that is where life really lies and is lived.