Running, hunting

Your body was made for running. You inherited it from someone who absolutely had to be good at running. Chances are your (great × 40)-grandfather – you have one you know! – was pretty good at running and hunting. If he hadn’t been, he might not have lasted long enough to see to it that you had a chance of being born, so credit to him for all that chasing about that he did. The human body got where it is today, partly, by running after things.

And now. Here you are, with your Nikes and your playlist of power songs, wondering if you can manage to go pound out a few kays after work this evening.

You can probably imagine how things were for him, your great-whatever-grandfather, but he would certainly be amazed by you. What are you doing, running around in circles like that? Stop, save your energy! You’ll need it if you want to survive the next winter. Wait, you’re saying that you usually put ON weight during wintertime? By the stars, what’s happened here?

Well, long story short, at the end of a chain of events wherein dozens or hundreds of people worked and lived and died so that you could be here today nestled stout within that body you’re occupying, something happened to invert the rules. Suddenly, probably as recently as a couple of generations ago, everything changed. You’re still physiologically primed to stock up on fat reserves for those sparse patches in the hunting calendar. But now there are no sparse patches. Now you have an abundance of food available to your body, and you probably expend much less energy than any of your ancestors ever did to earn access to it. You can fill you body with this energy well beyond its capacity and past the point where you need to worry about running out. So you go out running.

In many ways, running is pointless. Unless you’re doing it solely for fun, you’re simply working to undo all of the great things that society or your lifestyle has made available to you. You’re working, not to earn, but to lose what you’ve received almost for free: an abundance of cheap food, and an absence of manual labour to burn it off. You are a battery that craves to be charged, but never gets depleted.

Anyway, this may be a logical absurdity, but it’s the way of things, and it’s certainly not undesirable. Be happy that you live in a cozy building and not a hut. Be happy that you have your Nikes and power songs too, I guess. Your body was made for running, so take some pleasure in it.

Speaking of Nikes and power songs, there are loads of new gimmicks to try to encourage you to go running more often, and they’re brilliant if you ask me. They prod your anachronistic brain so that you’ll be compelled to use your anachronistic body (and they do it with technology, which is what got you into this mess in the first place). Nike+, for example, is a little digital fob that you put in your shoe. It records data about your run and you can challenge your friends online to see who can make it to a hundred miles or whatever. Your motivation to go running is no longer only virtuous and selfish; it’s now about beating your fellow man at a made-up game.

The thrill of the virtual hunt

It’s very post facto though. Here’s a free idea. Make an iPhone exercise app in which you chase virtual animals. I mean, you actually go outside and run, and your iPhone tells you whether or not the imaginary animal is getting away. Regress a few generations and pretend that you’re actually running to eat, not to un-eat. The faster you run, the closer you get to your prey. Don’t slow down now, dinner’s getting away! In the settings you can choose an animal to chase based on your level of ability; doughy beginners can chase after a small boar and athletic pros can hunt majestic gazelle. Go after a wild horse of you want to try sprint training, or a mountain goat if you’re into trail running. You might have a virtual family to feed, and if you’re the serious type you already probably have a big family and should be out there chasing animals most days. Don’t get lazy or your kids will go hungry. Arrange to run with friends and you might be able to take down a water buffalo. A group of you could form a tribe and hunt enough to seize local supremacy over other runners.

Your old man would find that quite odd, of course, but at least you’d be making some use of the legs he left you.

— 13 Apr 2010