Art vs science

2009-12-08 00:00

I feel  a great deal of resistance coming on. It’s not just a commitment phobia, although it may well be no more than that. There’s no doubt that I don’t like being boxed into a programme. This is silly, in a way. Why not just get on with it and train to a schedule and do the best that I could do? Well, to get to that stage it’s important for me to know what it is that I’m doing. Am I purely going for time? I’m not a contender so time in itself has no meaning. People say that the joy of running distance is that you run against yourself. Yes, that’s true, to a point, but competitiveness between me and myself can take many forms, of which effort and time are only two aspects. Enjoyment, satisfaction and celebration are other ways in which I could define the value, the purpose of running, for starters, and running in a communal, quasi-competitive environment sets different standards which may not tally with actual objectives. In short, am I doing this to meet an objective (time, for example), or to prove a point (that I am a manly man), or for the sake of it (because I’m bored and can think of no better way to assert my existential relevance than to generate copious amounts of sweat with no actual product to show for it in the  end)?  Is the act of running something outside and beyond myself, or is it somehow intrinsically part of who I am and what I do?

Some time ago my wife and I set off on a Sunday cycle, and we (actually I) thought why not circumnavigate Midmar Dam? This thought only popped up once we were actually on the road, so there was a certain amount of debate about why we should deviate from what we had intended to do. The original plan was that we would cycle from Lion’s River, where we live, to Merrivale, back to Midmar Dam and then home to make a circuit of about 25 km.  My wife had had the whole ride planned out: how far we would go, how long it would take us to get to the milestones along the way, and in knowing all this we would know the value of the day’s training. When I suggested that we see where the path around Midmar Dam would take us, suddenly all this was thrown into doubt: how would we know the value of the day if we didn’t know how far we were going and what time we could expect to do it in?  It was a clash between art and science. I argued, successfully, eventually, that one should be open to pursuing the ‘arabesques of nature’ in the performance of one’s activities, be they training or otherwise. The term comes from Marthinus Versfeld’s book The Philosopher’s Cookbook. Have you heard of him? He’s one of the few South Africans recognized as a philosopher of any merit. He argues against what he calls the ‘geometricisation’  of one’s daily activities, in this case cooking, and suggests that sticking rigidly to recipes diminishes the social and spiritual value of creating a meal. So it is with all things. And so it is with running. Running has its own ingredients, as does a good meal. They are, ideally, a picturesque route, clean air, good company, varied  terrain, plenty of time, and many detour options. And for women runners, the promise of safety. Not everyone has these ingredients at hand, and yet it is necessary to make the most of not having any of them. Sometimes when you’re stuck in the middle of a city with ne’er a tree in sight or an open stretch of road, you still need to come up with a run that’s wholesome and satisfying. As it turned out, the Midmar arabesque didn’t take us around the dam because we couldn’t find a route all the way round, and to make things worse, we had no water, although by some fluke we had an apple each to give us sustenance. So on the day we probably exceeded our training objectives, because we sure as hell did the time and the distance, but what we lost in the ability to quantify it, we gained in having seen parts of our world we had not, and would never otherwise have, got to before.

In the meantime, I run, with last week’s total amounting to 41 kays.

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