On the idea of a phenomenology of running – reply

Thinking and running are interlinked in many sorts of ways. Therefore, I think that David’s idea of digging deeper into what they could be is intriguing. Because it would take the running to a new dimension for me, perhaps not the actual practice of running, but the place running has in my life.

I guess that a common way to acquire new knowledge would be to study the theory and put it into practice in some sort of empirical setting. In this case, it might be the opposite, increasing my understanding of phenomenology through something that I hold dear: running.

So, let’s dig in to a new dimension of such an ordinary thing as running. Or is running something ordinary?


A Phenomenology of Running: A Proposal

In the posts during the last year I have been touching on the phenomenology of running from a range of perspectives. This is really the topic I want to capture, it occurs to me. It will become a project on this blog going forward.

A complete philosophical account of the phenomenology of running would need to meet a number of criteria.

First, it would need to cover all aspects of running, including the physical sensations of the body moving through a space and the sensations of the body’s own efforts, as well as the alterations to the subjective framing of these within the intentionality of running as it shifts and changes.

Second, it should address running at all speeds and distances, from short sprints to ultra-marathons and beyond. Of course, I am most interested in how longer-distance running affects the nature of our awareness of what it is to be a physical being, but it would be wrong to exclude the impact of sprinting on thought, sensation and perception.

Third, it must address the deeper phenomenology of the alterations to consciousness itself, and what initially might be called ‘higher’ awareness of self, no-self and other.

Finally, it should make reference to and be informed by the many approaches to running that already exist. I could not possibly hope to begin without these guides that range over accounts of barefoot running with indigenous tribal peoples, ancient wisdom from Buddhist masters, new running ideas and mindfulness, tales from champions, and leading-edge running science and philosophy.

Doing this will allow me to draw on all the interests and perspective on running I have mentioned to date. I hope readers will think it worthwhile. I shall continue to post about my running more generally alongside this project, and include information on races as before.

If anyone else would like to jump into the conversation, please do leave a message.


Subjects and Bodies

Recently I have been reading a book by the philosopher Roger Scruton: On Human Nature. While I find much to disagree with in Scruton’s political philosophy, when he writes about aspects of human experience and the centrality of the subject, intentionality and the I-you relationship in our morality, he weaves a compelling theory about the eliminability of the subjective. I think he is mistaken about some of the conclusions he draws from his arguments, which follow his oft repeated conservative narrative, but the core thesis is, I find, sound and deeply insightful. The humanities can never be replaced or find a substitute in objective scientific accounts of human nature.

Running is a real encounter with the raw experience of embodied animal nature mediated through our choice to run, to go beyond what basic physical feedback would tell us is possible or desirable. In doing so we both live within and recognise our fleshy objective nature,  and explore the ways we can transcend that as a subject whose experience of running is more than as just an animal.

This is all particularly true in a marathon. There is a point where you are running beyond what is physically good for you and for longer than your body wants to; for me this around 20 miles / 30km / 3.5 hours. This means that, perhaps counterintuitively, from that point you are in full contact with the subjective nature of running even as your body is exhausted.  I am beginning to wonder how this idea might be further explored and connected to my other thoughts on the Zen nature of running.

Stockholm 2017

I completed marathon No. 2 around 20 minutes faster than the first one, which is good enough for me!

Running a marathon is not like other running, as any marathon runner will tell you. Most people do not train to that full distance of 42.195km, at least very rarely. I am the same. There is a point in the race when you enter a stage of both exhaustion and determination that you know you have not experienced before (or since your last marathon). Stockholm was no exception. Two slightly different laps round such a beautiful city were, in stages, exciting, energised, determined, draining, and, in the end really very emotional. I knew I could keep my pace going until around 30km or so. Cramp in my hamstrings at around 26km set me back quite a bit and stiffened up my legs so that it was difficult to return to full pace. However, here is a picture taken by Lars, who did not run on this occasion, at about the 32km point where I was still just about trucking.Stockholm


Hello! Time for a reboot. It has been quite some time since we posted anything here. Readers might have come to the conclusion that we had stopped running. We have not. It would take too long to complete all the details of what has been happening, so I shall give you a quick summary for now. Thoughts and reflections will follow later. Here are the highlights for me:

  1. I completed the Chester Marathon on a warm, sultry day last October. I was slow and felt unwell towards the end, but I learnt a great deal about myself, running and what I need to do next time.
  2. I extended my race programme for 2017. By the end of this year I shall have (I hope) finished the Great Manchester Run 10km (May), the Stockholm Marathon (June), the Bolton Community Half-Marathon (September), the Chester Marathon (October) and the Great Langdale Marathon (October).
  3. Yesterday was the Great Manchester Run, which I ran with my partner, Lawrence, who was running for the first time.
  4. On Saturday, it’s the Stockholm Marathon!

So, there’s lots to tell! Springathink is back up and running. More updates will follow.

Success, failure, achievement

It was a moderately warm, still day, with a light drizzle. Perfect for running. But I did not run 20 miles. In fact, I only ran just over 10 miles; I just felt low energy for the second half. Now, the question I face is: should I be disappointed with this and call it a failure? I think, not. I had a good run – 10 miles is no short sprint – and I enjoyed the lovely autumn air and atmosphere around the reservoir. Yes, I didn’t ‘achieve’ my plan and will still have to train to 20 miles before mid-September (to accommodate the tapering of my training before the marathon), but overall it was a good run and one that added to my total running this week. My longest run is still around 17 miles. I shan’t be beating myself up.

This is another lesson from running. A target is an aim, and it is good to have them for the purposes of training. But every run is its own event and has its own life. Some time ago I decided to run as I felt in the midst of it, regardless of what I planned. I guess this is another aspect of running in the now, and it works for me.


There has been a long gap since my last post. I cannot remember what I intended to say about Zen when I promised to post about it when writing again. For this, I apologise. I shall have more to say on that topic, but not just now.

The summer is over, and September is already bringing cooler days and evenings. Although the late summer flowers are still in bloom, many are turning to seed, and the super-abundance of verdant July and August has slipped into a yellowing ripeness and fullness. September always feels like both an ending and a beginning, though; the excitement of a new academic year still gets me, even though I do not work in a university anymore. I always feel the start of September is like a mini New Year, an opportunity to renew and refresh commitments and resolutions.

Throughout the summer I continued to run and to increase my distances on the weekend long runs. The fear of being unable to stagger through a half-marathon has faded into memory, although it was only a few weeks ago that I withdrew from the Southport race. Tomorrow, in the rain, I shall attempt twenty miles; this will be the longest distance I will aim for before the marathon on 2nd October, although I might repeat it in a couple of weeks. It will be a new record for me (provided I finish). But it will be a new marker for the future, rather than a completion of something from the past: the point from which I shall be able to call myself a long-distance runner, in my terms at least. From this, I shall have a point to start a ‘new year’ of running.  I hope I can do it. Wish me luck!


UPDATE: it was raining so much today I deferred until tomorrow morning, Sunday. I suppose I’m a wimp, but over long distances there is chafing from wet gear to consider.