Running with the Pack: Thoughts from the Road on Meaning and Mortality - Mark Rowlands

"It is indeed a form of worship, an attempt to find God, a means to the transcendent...I have power, power that propels me cross country, puts me intimately in touch with nature, strengthens me.....I own the day" This is the description that Joel Henning attributes to running in his very enjoyable 1978 book Holistic Running. He describes the magnificence of running throughout the year, the beauty to be felt during a sunrise and how both mentally and physically running prepares him for the day ahead.

 

I have been a runner myself for some 40 years and complete even today a number of competitive races of varying distance always remembering the inspiration that I got not only from Henning's book but also James Fixxs' superb The Complete Book of running where he not only looks at the physical but also the psychological benefits.

 

So what has Mark Rowlands, as a philosopher and dedicated runner got to offer to the running community that books from a bygone era may not have discussed or been aware of...the answer is not a lot really! A 48 year old man battling against the onset of injuries attempting to complete a marathon "I am a tissue of injuries, scars and weaknesses sown together in the mere semblance of a man" The impression I got from reading this book is that the author did not actually enjoy running but did attribute his inner calm and inner thoughts to the run...."It is something I understand only in moments and then it is gone. But those may be the most important moments of my life"

I found the book heavy on philosophy and philosophical jargon and not enough time spent on actual running and what this did and how it made him feel. This is probably not unexpected as Rowlands is a professor of philosophy.

 

Running and the marathon that he is training for appears to be secondary to his ramblings and thoughts indeed he openly admits that his running ability is poor with little incentive and no natural aptitude..."My current situation is that I am running, or at least trying to run, a marathon. I have no natural aptitude for this, quite the contrary in fact. I haven't even been able to train very much; in fact training has gone very badly indeed." In those rare moments when Rowlands manages to return the readers to the "run" he does manage to contribute some valuable and important insight..."Running is the embodied apprehension of intrinsic value in life. This is the meaning of running. This is what running really is."..."Running is a place for remembering. It is in this place that we find the meaning of running."

 

Probably the greatest compliment and deepest thought is when at the start of chapter one there is a simple quote from Emil Zatopek, the great Czech distance runner of the 1950's..."If you want to run, run a mile. But if you want to experience another life run a marathon." So for me this book had a few highs, a number of interesting insights and some memorable quotes but in the final analysis the running was sacrificed at the expense of philosophical insights.