On why we run

Image of Running with the Pack

Running with the pack: thoughts from the road on meaning and mortality by Mark Rowlands (2013)

Mark Rowlands has been a runner for most of his life and is a professional philosopher. For him, the two – running and philosophy – are intimately linked. At the heart of Running with the pack, he is seeking to answer the question: why do we run?

Do we run to stave off middle age, for the company, to relieve stress, to exercise our dogs, for self-improvement? Or do we run for its own sake? Is running a form of work or play? I think for all of us, the meaning may change from year to year, from moment to moment.

Rowlands muses on these questions through his runs – from Wales as a boy, to the coast of Ireland, along French beaches and in Florida swamps with his beloved dogs.  He ends by describing his marathon debut as a middle aged runner in Miami with little training due to injury. Scattered throughout are meditations on mortality, midlife, meaning and joy through the works of Aristotle, Descartes, Neitzsche, Kant, Heidegger and Hume to name a few.

Running for Rowlands started as a means to an end, running to and from school in Wales and then later, running daily with his dogs who would otherwise fling themselves around his home, destroying everything. But he firmly admits this does not explain why he continues. He sums this up beautifully running hard up a long hill on the Irish coast. He is ‘dying, grasping for breath…’ and there is nothing in the world he would rather be doing.

‘I ran that hill for one reason only: to run it. And that is a clue to the final cause of running. You and I may run for many reasons, but the purpose – the final cause – of running is always the same. At its best, and at its purest, the purpose of running is simply to run.’ (p78)

 This I can understand. I started running to get fit and to lose a little weight, to meet others and there was perhaps an element of staving off middle age. But that doesn’t explain why I continue running through the heat, the rain and the sleet or why I feel lost when I’m unable to due to injuries. And it doesn’t explain those nights I force myself to don my running shoes when every part of me is screaming that I’d be better off sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine and eating pizza with a good movie. It all made sense on my last long run a few weeks ago. I was at about mile 7 crossing Waterloo bridge. For no reason I could fathom, I quickened my pace to where I was breathing hard, dripping with sweat, a huge grin across my face – this is joy! And this is what it’s about.

This is a wonderful and an intimate book, weaving together stories of runs, thoughts and journeys with his dogs. It’s a fantastic read for anyone who’s ever pondered that all important question, why do I run.

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