“The real reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other.. but to be with each other.”
-- Christopher McDougall, Born to Run
I have never liked sport. I’ve never liked watching it, doing it, or reading about it. I’m not terribly well coordinated, so I’ve never been particularly good at it either, although I do seem to remember being not too bad at playing dodgeball in high school.
Despite this, about eight or nine years ago I started running around the neighborhood occasionally. After I came to Japan I did it more, and in the first spring and summer I was here I ran a lot. I remember running late at night by myself enjoying the quiet, the warmth, the run.
Then came winter, and the gradual fall into depression, which I am yet to really escape almost five years later. The worse I felt, the less exercise I did. Gradually I improved a little, and while I have been up and down over the years, I’ve never really fully recovered. That first plunge down was not even the worst one. In fact, the major episodes seem to get worse each time. Whether this will continue to its logical conclusion remains to be seen.
One of the things I did last year to try and save myself was to start running more often, in a more consistent way. I did the the Tokyo marathon again, and have done a few other, shorter races too.
While I rarely feel the “runners high” that people often talk about, it can make me feel better. The physical exercise itself, but especially when I run with others. There is something that feels good about it on a basic level. Maybe it is just the natural combination of exercise and having company. But I can’t help feel that it is something else, that it is somehow more than just that.
I recently read McDougall’s book, in which he talks about persistence hunting, still practiced by the Kalahari bushmen in Africa, in which hunters working together can literally run an animal to death, and McDougall speculates that this may be at the root of our ability to run. Members of the tribe would run together, and be able to bring down game that they would never have been able to catch individually, and in doing so they would be able to feed the group.
I might be just deluding myself, or making too much of a simple thing. But when I run with others, even though we are simply running to keep ourselves healthy, I can’t help but wonder if that special feeling I can’t quite define is not the ghost of those long millennia of persistence hunters, generation after generation of runners working together to survive for another day. Maybe we are indeed born to run.