In Search of A/The Point of Life

RUNNING THE NEXT LAPS OF THE LONG-RUNNING BODY vs MIND vs TECHNOLOGY vs SOUL DISCOURSES. Trans-dimensional running as a critical strategy for our techonologically-layered multiverse.

Trans-dimensional running is as much a visceral counterstrike as it is a celebration of our technologically-expanded lives. As we run trans-dimensionally, we embody both the techno-utopianist Cyborg as well as the fragile, flesh-and-blood animal. We have one foot embedded in the physical world, and the other afloat in the non-physical and metaphysical worlds, detached from worldly matters. Technology permeates the activity of running, as it does in almost every aspect of our lives today. Yet, running could arguably be an act that utilises the least technology. In its most unembellished form, practitioners can run shoeless[1] – and indeed naked, as Pheidippides did 2500 years ago. Trans-dimensional running is a simple means of navigation in the digitally-saturated reality today. Running across the varied topographies, no one is in a better position than the trans-dimensional runner to tease out the long-existing as well as current debates of the battles between body, mind and technology. The undertaking of any endurance sport is a training of not only physical but mental resilience. In exercising our body and mind to revel and wrangle with our technologically-enhanced realities, the trans-dimensional runner has one foot in a techno-utopianist delirium (Clay Shirky et al), the other in a scepticism (Michael Zimmer et al). Running is a visceral counterpoint to the relentless development of technology. Web 2.0’s (somewhat ironically-named) social media was constructed by and for the geek –socially dysfunctional in Life 1.0– to virtually do virtually everything online without ever leaving one’s chair (or flat). While we celebrate our newfound ability to leave our bodies behind and run off into metaverses online,[2] pounding the pavements in meatspace immediately pulls us back to earth (and nature), reminding us the presence and limitations of our flesh-and-blood machines, and, indeed, our mortality.

And to the snobs (invariably bound to the armchair) who say that running is unthinking, one’s mind must work as actively as one’s body when one is running, as runners and sport psychologists attest.[3] When the body hits the metaphoric wall, only willpower and imagination can propel the runner to complete the last 6 miles of a 26.2-mile race.[4] When the body undergoes extreme states of duress, the chemicals in the brains pushes the runner into an altered state of consciousness.[5] At an optimal level, this can be the proverbial ‘flow’, a notion of focused motivation put forward by psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihály. As Daniel Shiffman, creator of open-source software Processing says, ‘I do all my best programming while jogging.’ [6] We also do not forget that Alan Turing, who was a highly-accomplished marathon-runner,[7] was said to have invented the beginnings of the computer in the middle of a run.[8]

Who better than the mythical ‘Marathon Monks’ of Mount Hiei, Japan, to refer to in the discussion of the importance of the lucidity of the mind (and spirit) when the body runs? While we are not unfamiliar with ascetic feats that humans are capable of in the bid to attain enlightenment (as seen in the fervent twirling of the Dervishes, and the practice of fire-walking of Hindus, just to name a few), the achievement of these monks still seem out of the world. The tofu-eating monks of the Tendai sect chant – while carrying scriptures, and running and walking for a total of 1000 days across a period of 7 years, in a practice called the kaihogyo. Running the equivalent of 2 marathons daily for a large part of the task,[9] the monk must cover a total distance of around 40,000 kilometres, equivalent to 1000 marathons.[10] In an exercise that already sounds like no walk in the park, the monk must go without food, sleep and drinks for a stretch of nine days as well.

Talk about effort. Perhaps those self-proclaimed Cyborgs and Cyborg-lovers (Donna Haraway, as well as the Orlans and Stelarcs) – could come out of their ivory towers and learn from the practice that has begun since the 18th century, which has feet firmly on the ground, while reaching for (self-) transcendence. Our ‘1000-day run’ is a mockery to the phrase when compared to this extraordinary synthesis of the mind, body and spirit…

[1] Vijai Singh, Barefoot Running – Video Library – The New York Times [accessed 12 July 2010]. In this video, we see that the writer of Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, Professor Christopher McDougall also runs barefeet.

[2] Tim Guest, Second Lives (Arrow Books Ltd, 2008) p. 355.

[3] Such as Costas Karageorghis, ‘Sport Psychology: How Mental Imagery and Self-Hypnosis Can Improve Performance’, Peak Peroformance: Sporting Excellence [accessed 25 September 2010].

[4] As Barry Magee, bronze winner of the marathon in Rome, 1960 says, ‘(a)nyone can run 20 miles. It’s the next six that count.’ Quoted in ‘Running Quotes | Training & Racing’, Run the Planet: World Wide Resource for Runners, 1996 [accessed 24 September 2010].

[5] As discussed in such literature as Henriette van Praag, Gerd Kempermann and Fred H. Gage, ‘Running Increases Cell Proliferation and Neurogenesis in the Adult Mouse Dentate Gyrus’, Nat Neurosci, 2 (1999), 266-270.

[6] Daniel Shiffman, Learning Processing: A Beginner’s Guide to Programming Images, Animation, and Interaction (Morgan Kaufmann, 2008), p. xii.

[7] Although Turing did not manage to be selected for the 1948 Olympics, having come in fifth, his best time of 2 hours, 46 minutes, 3 seconds, achieved in 1947, was only 11 minutes slower than the winner in that Olympic Games. John Graham-Cumming, ‘An Olympic Honour for Alan Turing | Comment Is Free |’, 2010  [accessed 5 July 2010].

[8] According to 1968 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot in the foreword (p. ix), in Michael W. Austin, Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), p. 135.

[9] Jayne Storey, ‘Running Buddhas. Ultra-Endurance and the Spiritual Athlete’ [accessed 10 July 2010]. According to Storey, the full menu of the monk’s 10000-day feat, the Sennichi Kaihogyo, is as follows: ‘1st year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2-mile marathons, beginning at 1:30 a.m., each day after an hour of prayer. 2nd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons. 3rd year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons. 4th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice. 5th year: 100 consecutive days of 26.2 mile marathons – performed twice. On the 700th day, the monks undergo a 9 day fast without food, water, rest or sleep – a mind-boggling feat which would result in certain death for most human beings, before having a short rest of a few weeks and increasing their gruelling schedule. 6th year: 100 consecutive days of 37.5 mile marathons. 7th year: 100 days of 52.2 mile marathons and 100 days of 26.2 mile marathons.’

[10] Anthony Kuhn, ‘Monk’s Enlightenment Begins With A Marathon Walk’ (NPR, 2010)  [accessed 11 July 2010].

Images on this page are photographed by Michael Larsson.