Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Running With the Pack," by Mark Rowlands

“Most of the serious thinking I have done over the past twenty years has been done while running,” says philosophy professor Rowlands, who has run for most of his life. And for him, running and philosophizing are inextricably connected.

  A Book Review of
Running With The Pack
By Mark Rowlands
(I received a copy from Netgalley for this review)

This book is rich, deep and meaty. As a  fan of anything that can capture the essence of running in words, I dashed into this book. It gave me as much as I could have hoped for.

The author starts the novel at the starting chute of a marathon being "undercooked" having not trained for many weeks. Yet still he is going to run and acknowledges lying to himself about just running a portion to see how he feels. He knows full well he's going to keep going, and we get to hear his mental meanderings along the way.

The author goes back again and again to running for the sake of running and not for the end results of something else. Running is where we find play and get back to 'knowing' what it's like to play and remember things we have only known as a child. Getting wrapped up in the run itself is something that makes this life worthwhile.

You won't find the typical "Just Do It,""Run Strong", or some Prefontaine or Sheehan slogans (both of whom I love) that will serve as mantras. What you will find are perhaps some of the deepest critical thinking of running you will ever read. Many parts will stick with me.

I loved his examination of the question "what do I think about when I run" and referred to this material for a blog post. If there is any mantra that the book left me with, it will be the idea that every run has its own heart beat you get lost in, and if you do happen to be thinking too much during a run, that means it has gone bad, or has not yet 'gone right.' 'The Heart-beat of the run' will be tattooed in your memory after reading how the author's descriptions.

I also loved the author pondering his decline of athleticism and mounting running injuries. No trite cliches to offer comfort, just more philosophical discourse on mortality. Yes, we are all a running tragedy, born as runners to get slower before we die, but first becoming more often injured as we age, never to fully recover. Soon we will run less, and eventually stop running altogether. This may be the only book where you will see Sartre's nihilist thoughts examined alongside a marathon route, and to help find meaning in running injuries and our tragic human predicament. While I may tell myself "my brain is just an organ asking me to slow, I don't have to listen to it", this author brings out not just philosophy 101, but snippets of Grad class.

This is not pop-culture philosophy, this is Socratic dialogue, and some of his mental discourse was incredibly interesting to follow. Other times I got bored, skimmed, found myself outside of the heartbeat of the read, but after a few more miles it got right back in a groove I could totally keep pace with. When he spoke of the animals he ran with, it was clear the power of 'running with the pack' had on him, but at times it was like being shown one too many pictures of a parent's newborn.You can admire their love, but you only need one picture or two, not the whole photo album.

Overall, it was when the author was showing his heart in this book,

and not his brain, that I was really enjoying it. But both the way he thought about running, and the feelings it creates, have resonated with me. As I write this, passages are still being deciphered in my head, clarified, and the book is one you can pick up again and again and find wonderful new morsels.

It is difficult to do such a meaty book justice in a review. If it is any indication, "Running With the Pack" is of the most highlighted books on my kindle. While I was reading it, I wanted to tell others about it, get their thoughts and opinions, and this is a sign it took a hold of me.

1 comment:

LBTEPA said...

I kept wanting to tell people about it too! And it took me ages to read - I'd read and re-read bits that really resonated and try and truly absorb them. Now I'm going to read it again :)

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