Your Monday Blessing: “Stony the Road we Trod”
The accusations are familiar. “A bunch of arcane rituals nobody really understands.” “A waste of time – boring and pointless.” “If they really want to be helpful, why don’t they just volunteer at the homeless shelter instead?” “Silly outfits and daft traditions.” “An excuse for the middle classes to feel all high and mighty of a Sunday.” “They say its all for a good cause, but it’s mostly just a sham to get your money.” “Hypocrites – beneath all the bluster, they’re no better than the rest of us.”
The accusations keep coming, but still, weekend after weekend, millions still attend running events. 5Ks, 10ks, fun runs, events named after Greek legends. Runs interrupted by swimming and riding on iron. Runs in the freezing cold. Runs where you get electrocuted – on purpose. The Weekend Warriors care nothing for the doubters. These stalwarts train every day, for months, for an hour or two of worship in London, or Boston, or at wherever it is the seas of lycra are gathering this weekend. They would walk through fire for this.
I am not a running devotee. My wife is one of the faithful, though, as are several of my friends, and I try to be supportive of their calling. It seems to do them good. I’m not talking so much about physical health, where the effects are mixed. Running, like alcohol, is fine in small doses and in moderation may even be good for you – but once you start hitting the joints, it all goes downhill. But then, most honest passions are better on the soul than on the body. They serve the spirit of humanity, and do not count the dry beans of an individual’s lifespan. Emotionally, and spiritually, it’s hard to question the lovely feeling that comes in being in close proximity with thousands of people who are all trying something slightly foolish. There is a kind of wholesome recklessness in the air, as normally sensible people ask “WHY am I doing this?” It is almost always asked with the smile, at least before the race begins. During the race, it is asked with more of a grimace. But there is more truth in that lived grimace than in most of the world’s philosophies.
It’s not for me to say why they do it, Sunday after Sunday. The gathering together seems to be an important part of it. Could one be a runner on one’s own – out in nature, for instance, watching a rainbow? Sure. One could even be a runner going about one’s day, on the way to work, about to get the bus. But there is something about being with others who share the same lunacy as you do. The committed will find each other, and when they do, something else will be there too: a delight that is impossible to describe fully, and only admits the shared adventurers to her table. She bars the doors to pedants with a secret password, and then the game is afoot.
As I say, I am not much of a runner. I admit, sometimes when times are tough, or I think it may be helpful, I engage in a quick run. It almost always has a mild amelioratory effect, and at that point I resolve myself that I should be more of a runner. But it never seems to stick. I admire those who make a practice of it, though, and wish them all the best. Running has long been a part of what it means to be human. Peering into the varied causes of running back in our prehistory – the fears and the savagery – some argue its total cessation would be a vast improvement, progress marching onward. But I do not agree. If we were never to run again, even if life were made more comfortable, something beautiful would be lost.
I guess I am something of an agnostic when it comes to running – though that accusatory and much-accused word sounds far more cynical then my benign intentions. What I mean is, though I dont pretend to know for sure, I refuse to rule out the possibility that they may be going somewhere.