In Search of A/The Point of Life

WHY RUNNING ALONE IS THE BEST/ONLY WAY TO RUN: Like Murakami, Turing and Colin, we run because we seek solitude. We are solitary beings; hence we run long distances. Go on, call us selfish.


We (prefer to) live, run and die alone: in the plastic dustbin of history. Nonetheless, nice to meet you. Nice to have met you. Nice meeting you. WC1 Nondon Spring 2011.

The narrative of human beings is (or, we should say ‘the narratives of human beings are’) populated / infested by wandering hermits – St Jerome, Anthony of Egypt, Basho, Jesus Christ, Lao Zi, Buddha, Confucius, Mencius, Chatwin, are but some of the named itinerants who have been recorded and mythologised, and have captured our imagination. There have been many more unnamed. As they traversed the world(s), they meditated, wrote, spoke, sang and came to terms with their being, in one way or another. (Or not – and spend their lives making tours and detours, making false moves and dying pathetically, rotten, sickly, unenlightened, bitter, as sickbags, like the rest of us). To be sure, the story of mankind (which sounds rather grand, does it not?) is also populated by the gregarious, the socially-adept, those who prefer direct action, so on, and so forth. Which is exactly the/our point – the so on and so forth-ness of things – that there are different paths each prefers. Each of us has different means of getting there; each of us has different paths that works for us. We respect yours, and you, presumably, ours. When we cross paths and run into each other, we may fight, have a tussle, a tumble, or two, or more, a war, civil, or uncivilised, or cold, or silent, or ongoing and unresolved. Or, we may sparkle, together, shine, tango constructively and powerfully, like the clash of civilisations, meeting of 2 different chemicals to produce a third, new, synthetic (in all meanings of this word) possibility. Or, more mundanely, it is the combination of the above 2: a process, of a mixture of curiosity and argument, debates and agreements, hits and misses, fall outs and make ups, negotiation and mediation (‘compromise’ is a word we loathe, for it is less constructive but a giving-in, a weakening. The best, or rather ‘best’ encounters are not weakenings, but processes of strengthening. In the ideal world). At the meantime, we blame each other for intruding into our lives, as we confusedly try to work it out, yet, also, perhaps, at the back of our minds understand/believe that something interesting, something larger than each of us alone, something more wonderful and further than what each alone can achieve or where each could travel/go. Hence we work on it. Or not, should we run out of stamina. (Or faith? If there is such a thing, that is! Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.)

Screw this – this thread sounds romantic, old-fashioned, esoteric, irrelevant and plain silly.

Enough rambling.

Let us get back on track.

Restart (contemporarised, main-streamified):

The nature of long-distance running over hours and hours almost demands that it is a solo undertaking. For world champion marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, while there are times when running can be ‘a big social thing – go for a run, catch up with friends and have a really good chat’,[1] running for her remains a primarily solitary activity, ‘during which I just […] have my time.’[2] To be sure, we can run with pace-makers or pacers, whose task is support runners to ensure that we are not over- or under-exerting ourselves. In particularly demanding races such as ultra-marathons, during which runners can become so exhausted as to encounter hallucinations or lose consciousness, such collaborations can be a matter of life and death. As Christopher McDougall says,  ‘a tough pacer can save your race; a sharp one can save your life’.[3] Yet, the writer and ultra-marathoner also refer to pace-makers condescendingly as ‘mules’, adding that ‘[p]acing is so gruelling and thankless that only family, fools and damn good friends let themselves get talked into it.’[4] Hence, if we wish to make (sporty) new friends, the conditions circumscribed by activities such as soccer, aqua-aerobics or the physically-gentler activity of walking seem more promising.

The solitary nature of long distance running in Life 1.0 is epitomised in (and mythologised by) the title of the book and film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. In this ‘Kitchen Sink’ classic[5] written by Alan Sillitoe in 1959, it is during our protagonist Colin’s solo runs that he is able to have ‘his time’, away from the physical, emotional and economical confines of his reality, including the Borstal prison to which he was confined to. Indeed, running was said to have been the ideal activity for Alan Turing, as it mirrored the loneliness of his journey as a scientist.[6] Given that such intellectual and creative work demands intense concentration, there are scientists as well as artists who may prefer working in isolation. (That said, there are clearly many who prefer to work collaboratively.) (Clearly, too, is that there are not so many artists who undertake endurance sports, apart from enduring many hours of debauchery, which we excel in as well). The same intensity required of a scientist’s creative process is not dissimilar to that of an artist or writer. As a matter of fact, novelist and marathon runner Haruki Murakami admits that he actively seeks out solitude, and grants that ‘especially for someone in my line of work, solitude is, more or less, an inevitable circumstance.’[7] Running suits him perfectly, as ‘[a]ll you need is a pair of running shoes and you can do it anywhere. It does not require anybody to do it with […].[8] He adds:

I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two everyday running alone, not speaking to anyone, we well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. [9]

This is our chosen way of life. This is how we run (navigate, negotiate and manage) the/our world(s). We are neither Buddha nor Jesus (in case you didn’t know), but Christ!, to each her own. Just as there are those who prefer to travel alone, there are those who love it communal; just as there are lonely long-distance runners, there are sprinters who fear loneliness (and then of course, there are those who prefer other modes of locomotion to running, and then those who prefer not to move at all. Which is all fine. We say ‘fine’, though it is of course not up to us really. Not at all. Nor do we bother, though our job is to spread the gospel of our world-shattering thesis of trans-dimensional running, which is what we have been going on and on about, though of course, that is an other story, and we may not want to go into that again, not just now, any ways. Which we ourselves are getting extremely tired of as well. In any case – which ever ways. What we want to say is, at the end of the day, to each her own).

Go on, call us selfish. Like it or not, we are moving on. Take it. Leave it. Which ever. May we cross paths again. Or maybe not. See you later. If ever.



[1] Patrick Barkham, ‘Patrick Barkham Goes Running with Paula Radcliffe’, The Guardian, 16 December 2008, section Life and style <http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/dec/16/paula-radcliffe> [accessed 25 September 2010].

[2] Barkham.

[3] Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Profile Books, 2010), p. 88.

[4] McDougall, p. 89.

[5] The Kitchen Sink genre refers to the British cultural movement of the 1950s-60s. The social-realist works, created by filmmakers and writers called ‘Angry Young Men’, are anti-Romantic, often featuring (anti-)heroes of the working class who are anti-establishment. ‘Author Alan Sillitoe Dies Aged 82’, BBC, 25 April 2010, section Entertainment <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8642720.stm> [accessed 31 October 2010].

[6] Anish Chandy, ‘Alan Turing Biography’, Buzzle.com <http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/4-5-2005-68126.asp> [accessed 12 July 2010].

[7] Like Murakami, Turing was also known to be a loner, although it could be argued also that this is in part due to his inability to live as he wished because of his sexual orientation (homosexuality being a crime in the 1950s in the United Kingdom).

[8] Yishane Lee, ‘Haruki Murakami Interview from Runner’s World.com’, 2004 <http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-243-297–8908-0,00.html> [accessed 26 September 2010].

[9] Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Reprint (Harvill Secker, 2008), p. 15.


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