I read (or rather listened to), this rather excellent book of a similar title as this post, and it dawned on me as I listened, the irony of going ‘nowhere’ in relation to ultra running. A bit of preface, this post is not your regular ultra running post. In some respects its vaguely attempting to be philosophical (despite my huge lack of philosophy qualifications) and it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s something I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but hadn’t quite found the words or direction. Who knows, it’s probably still not right, but I hope it resonates or strikes a chord with a few.
You might be forgiven for asking what has going ‘nowhere’ got anything to do with running an ultra, whereas in fact you are actually going somewhere? You’d be right, it’s a conflict I juggled with in my head.
You see, while we may be physically transporting our bodies ‘somewhere’ in an ultra, mentally I like to achieve the notion of going ‘nowhere’. A good yard stick for knowing if you’ve gone ‘nowhere’ is to head out for a really long run and when finished, try to recall what happened. If it’s all a bit of a blur and you don’t remember much – I think you’ve probably gone ‘nowhere’. if you’ve had a huge brain wave or something has dawned on you, you probably allowed yourself to go nowhere too.
I was one of those people who used to listen to music on the run. If I had a long session on the road planned, I’d use it to help me get through the session as it would quite literally bore the pants off me.
But I remember finishing a particular two-hour run about five years ago and thought, ‘could I actually remember what I’d just listened to?’ The honest answer was that I had no idea. I couldn’t remember in the slightest what was on the iPod. I then realised that I didn’t ‘need’ music at all – my mind was going nowhere and simply turning off. It was oblivious to the outside surroundings and in its own space.
I saw a report yesterday, sent to me by a friend, saying Gen Ys are addicted to being busy – that they constantly have to have something on the go, or checking some form of technology device. I don’t believe that this is limited to just Gen Ys – I think there’s a fair chunk of society in the boat in one respect or another. But I can relate to what’s being said – we’re all trying to go ‘somewhere’ or achieve ‘something’, and technology offers us multiple routes and destinations to get ‘somewhere’.
Ultra running really is and should be the ultimate escapism. Our lives can be so ‘full’ and ‘busy’ that the simpleness and purity of running relieves our mental health. Is it any wonder that as the apparent ‘productiveness’ of technology as a so-called benefit to our lives has led to people doing more and more, thus rising stress levels, mental health issues and record suicide rates in younger people?
Forget the pills, send people out running.
So while I personally enjoy the competitiveness of running against myself, to see what I’m capable of, these last few years have taught me that really, I love mentally, the fact that running takes me ‘nowhere’.
While we may measure our achievements in distances run or average times, these again are just aesthetics to massage the ego and our own performance. I’d argue that the real measure and benefit of how successful our running should be, is its ability to take us to ‘nowhere’, to see what eventuates from visiting ‘nowhere’.
I delight in the ability to shut the brain off and focus on the wondrous repetition of running – like the beats of some dark Berlin techno music. Sure, I love running in beautiful surroundings and do get a kick out of running in mountains, but again these are aesthetics. The real joy comes from allowing your brain to go absolutely ‘nowhere’. To not be bothered by the influences of the outside world, or the disturbances we experience everyday.
Going nowhere allows the subconscious to flow. How often do you hear people say an idea just popped into their head, say for example in the shower? It’s because of those briefest of moments, where distraction is all but gone, do we allow our brains to relax and just wander at will. Hands down, the best ideas I’ve had in life have all come to me while I’ve visited ‘nowhere’ on a run.
Hard measurements are a good physical measure of our success, but it’s the unknown journey of ‘nowhere’ that really excites me. To go nowhere in running invariably means some form of suffering. Suffering is a key ingredient towards achieving happiness. Many take great pleasure in the happiness that proliferates our sport. But to achieve happiness, one has to suffer. I believe that ‘nowhere’ is the dark corridor that leads us through suffering, but ultimately to happiness.
Next time you’re out for a run, try going nowhere and see what pops into your mind… or not.