Passion or Discipline?

The Logic of the Long Distance is a blog by the rather fascinating Jeff Edmonds. In his blog, Jeff connects two topics I quite like, running and philosophy. 

Jeff feels that the professional practice of philosophy is somewhat obsessed with categorizing philosophy into types, genres, and disciplines. But the philosophy he loves to try to practice is less interested in intellectual turf wars and more interested with the lasting and ever-changing problems of human life. What’s the good life? How can we identify and creatively solve social problems? What’s the form and function of human intelligence? In other words, Jeff I think makes things simple, which is probably why I like what he writes so much. Jeff very kindly allowed Ultra168 to republish this article from his blog.

“Temperament is the iron wire on which the beads are strung.”

R. W. Emerson

There exist two types of runner, broadly speaking.

The first type of runner is essentially passionate. This sort of runner’s primary desire to run stems from the immediacy of running. For him or for her, running is a means to maximizing the intensity of lived experience. Impulsive and somewhat wild-eyed, the passionate runner tends to express the meaning

of running aesthetically and to theorize his running as the cultivation of perception of bodily states. It is the experience of running, first and foremost that animates the passionate runner. When this runner competes, he thinks very little about the watch but instead measures his feelings, eyes his competitors, looks to strike at the precise moment. He cares more about winning than about times, more about running than training, more about joy than sacrifice.

Fire = Passion – we think!

The second sort of runner is essentially disciplined. Methodical and relentless, this sort of runner sees running as a process of self-improvement over a span of time. Instead of focusing on physical feelings and intensities, this runner pays more attention to paces and mileages. Patient, analytical, and diligent, the disciplined runner finds strength and motivation from relentlessly following a plan, having a routine, and being able to measure improvement over time. The disciplined runner sees his craft as a means not of producing intense experience, but of creating meaning and direction. When racing, this runner is patient and calculating, focused on carrying out a well-organized plan, on doing the best he can to run a perfect race, letting the final results play out as they may. The disciplined runner aims for PRs.

Those who follow my work will recognize that I fall more towards the passionate side of the coin. To be passionate is neither a positive nor a negative; I am not applying valuations, but analyzing differences. Most of us are a blend of these two types of runner, and this summer I am attempting to cultivate my disciplined side. I’m even following a training plan (horrors). This post is, in part, an attempt to defend that decision.

Knowing myself means knowing that discipline is my weakness–that if I err, it will be most likely because I have placed too much emphasis on the immediacy of the experience of running, too little on the analytical and mediated aspects.

On the other hand, I have to be careful not to overcompensate. One of the most difficult aspects of training (and life is like this, too) is knowing just when to work on our weaknesses and when to rely on our strengths. If we spend too much time with our weaknesses, we can end up stripping our vital energy, cutting off the well at its source. But without the balance that our weaknesses provide, our strengths can become vicious, overwhelming our capacity for intelligence. It is a strange but true thought: we can be dominated by our strengths, just as we can be made weak by our weaknesses.

For those of us more passionate by temperament, our challenge will always be in following a plan, in being cautious, in maintaining energy and direction. We are bored easily, needing regular bouts of intensity to remind us of the value of endeavor. The grind of training, when done right, is just that. It’s a grind. The runner is like a plant. It does best when watered lightly and regularly. Proper training is slow and patient. So, the tendency of us passionates will always be to push when we should be waiting, to burn out before the plan has reached its full fruition.

Our relentlessness is largely manufactured. The long-term view only satisfies when it comes with the adrenaline rush of new possibilities. The secret to success for us passionate runners, then, must come through subterfuge and imagination. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the intensities to come. We have to bring before the mind’s eye the endless strength that we will feel, once we get through the grind, if we can only be patient. For us, the key is sublimation, imagination–our discipline does not come directly.

Finally, and somewhat paradoxically, the passionate runner can become too accustomed to marshaling his energies. Just as much as good training requires submitting to the grind, it also means running hard at the right times. Because the passionate runner is always using his intelligence and effort to hold his nature back, he can become hesitant to let it go at the very moment when it is time to strike. This is the problem of straying too far from your strengths: that all you can remember is how to deny them. It’s for this reason that the passionate runner’s brilliance comes in rare flashes. Self-denial in training can translate to doubt in racing.

But when the passionate runner finds his energies, when he can make it through the grind without losing his vitality, when he steps to the line shimmering with intensity: flight…

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

8 thoughts on “Passion or Discipline?

  1. I really like Jeff’s blog as I am a runner/philosopher myself. I think it is too simple to classify runners as either primarily disciplined or passionate. Many of us, including myself, are a mixture- depends on the time and place and context. As previously documented- I am part Scientist, part Hippy and part Mongrel – and these contain the elements of passion and discipline discussed above.

  2. I don’t mean to sound negative, and I do like Jeff’s writing, but I’m disappointed that you no longer publish much of your own stuff. I have already read all of Jeff’s blog and all of Andy’s blog.
    Cheers, Rob.

    1. Hi Rob, thanks for your comments. Appreciate there is some crossover at times and I like to think that we provide a wider audience for some of the material we re-publish from others to people that may not have seen it before.

      On a personal level, I do try to write as much as I can and prioritise this blog with a number of other things in my life. Namely my own family (twin baby girls and wife – my #1 priority), my own running, which is very important to me (100kms+ a week) and also a ‘real-life’, and quite demanding job that pays me money to subsidise all of the above.

      Ultra168 costs me money to run, I don’t charge for it and I don’t ask for handouts from people and I do what I can with the resources I have available – Above all though, I do it because I enjoy it. I like to think that Ultra168 punches way above its level given the part-time manner in which it’s run – and just looking back I see that of the 11 articles published this year to date, I’ve personally written 5 of them. Thanks for your understanding and comments noted – perception is everything.

    2. I also think that republishing content is a way to expose Ultra168 readers to content published on other sites and blogs, which they may not otherwise read. Not everyone Ultra168 reader goes through every other major ultra-running blog.

      I don’t often read LOLD and I would’ve missed this post if it wasn’t for Ultra168.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I’m 12 months new to running and can totally relate. It’s almost like Jeff reached inside & stole my feelings on running. I run simply for the experience. Passion for the meditative state, for the uncomfortableness of the unknown and for the reward of achievement is definitely what drives me to get my ass off the chair. Variety is highly important to me and routine doesn’t work, as precisely as Jeff says..yes, I get bored! Amongst the running community however, I don’t feel as though I fit in, simply because fellow runners focus is the opposite to mine. I am not driven by ego, pace, time or race events. Only events which wreak “challenging & adventurous” get my interest. I am often subjected to much banter because I don’t follow the grain and conform to what everyone else is doing. I can appreciate we all run for different reasons..I’m just glad for the reasons I run. In saying that, I wouldn’t mind peppering my week with a little more discipline, so I at least ensure, I do get a run or 2 in for the week but not so much routine that it would become a chore.

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