Mind Over Body?

Canadian author Margaret Atwood, in her novel Surfacing, has a great riff on the mind-body dilemma, with her character concluding that she’s “…not against the body or the head… only the neck, which creates the illusion that they are separate.”

Scientists and philosophers have debated this illusion for generations, and while for some folks it may seem an esoteric issue, for runners it can be downright personal.

Particularly as we begin running, we are likely to experience times when our bodies cannot do what our minds are asking of them, and it feels as if the two are incompatible; counter-dependent siblings who make it a matter of principle never to agree on anything. Experience and supportive resources that help us adjust expectations are one way reduce this gap, while longer-term training and conditioning narrow it from the other side, bringing each of us closer to understanding and achieving our individual potential.

A healthy and well-prepared running body is a powerful creation, and once the mind has learned reasonable expectations, it can feel as if the dichotomy has been bridged, which is a very fine thing: knowing what you want to do, what you can do and how to make it happen. A wisely-planned and competently-executed run, where you maintain your goal pace, finish without having hit any walls, and feel you’ve left very little or nothing ‘in the tank’, is immensely satisfying, regardless of where in the pack you finish.

And sometimes, if we are really lucky, we may reach an even higher state, where the mind seems to be riding along on top of something for which it is only marginally responsible. Like borrowing a friend’s hot new car, the brain observes the body’s performance with awe and a bit of suspense, grateful to be trusted with such a powerful machine even while wondering if he or she is up to the responsibility of driving it.

That fabled ‘runner’s high’ we hear about comes in a variety of forms, particular to particular individuals, but for this MPR that sense of mastery and optimization – of being almost-accidentally entrusted with a borrowed miracle of nature – is a treasured version of it.

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