Running is often described for its effects rather than for what it is. There are endless stories of running: they speak of what one feels while doing it, the crowding of thoughts during the race, the feelings experienced, the acceleration of thought. In short, there is an important part of our relationship with running that seems almost exclusively cerebral. It seems that we run mainly to talk about running, or to talk, more generally.
This is understandable since we are doing something that has no particular or productive function, except for those of doing us good and nourishing our minds (as well as giving a great deal of benefit to our bodies). As we have often written, in a society focused on the most exaggerated productivity, those who run do something that escapes the prevailing logic. It is no coincidence that the only way race is understandable and accepted is its being an intimate moment, obviously to regain balance in order to be “performing” in the production mechanism. God forbid!
They once asked Japanese architect Tadao Ando why he drew so many staircases in his designs. He gave an unexpected answer: he did it not because he liked them or because of any particular functional reason but because he wanted those who lived in and used his buildings to remember that they had gravity. In other words, he wanted them to realize how much they weighed and the effort their body made to make them move.
This observation came back to me as I watched a person who must have been my age walk. He did not look particularly snappy or younger than his years. In fact, he looked a bit hunched over. The first thought that comes to you when you see someone walking “feeling his every muscle move,” as if doing so is not natural but requires some effort, is “How out of shape!” Then instead I thought he had just trained. After all, someone who has run 10 to 15 km is not as agile as a gazelle and for a few hours, sometimes even for the day after training, he drag a bit.
So are these the effects of running? Does it make us look older or even accelerate our aging?
Of course not: instead, it makes us more aware of our body, makes us “feel” it. After all, we are used to moving by car and sitting many hours a day, taking the elevator and trying to avoid any physical exertion. The result is that we no longer have a sense of how much it costs in terms of energy to lift something, to move our bodies, to walk, to run. We have lost the habit of perceiving ourselves, at least physically. We are much more focused on our minds: we think a lot, especially when we feel an uneasiness, a melancholy, a struggle to do something.
Instead, the perception of our body helps us to regain a physical and concrete dimension, even to mitigate the psychological and mental dimension, to regain a measure.
The bottom line is that devoting ourselves to listening to our minds is a commendable and useful activity but it cannot be our sole focus. There is a need to balance it with listening to our bodies, and running has the ability to make us realize how much effort is being put in physically. Running is a contrast that balances the strength of the mind and, giving it limits, mitigates its power. It also makes us more aware of how we are made, how we function, and the attention we need to pay to the wonderful machine that our body is. When do we in fact notice this in daily life? Only when something hurts.
By running we “get” pains. They are reversible, lasting a few hours or less than a day and reminding us that we are not just a mind. Or, in other words, that body and mind are one. Something that even the ancient Romans knew very well, who despite living a few millennia ago were still right. Because they understood that there is no sound mind in a body that is not. Or that it’s been forgotten by those who owned it.