Aristotle speculated that our actions are formed by our desires and our desires by our thoughts. How we think therefore shapes how we act. Culture merges from the collective thoughts, habits and actions of a group of people who somehow define themselves as ‘us’. Once a certain momentum forms, the culture we are immersed in begins to shape and control our thoughts, then our desires and actions and finally commands what results we get. Nothing could therefore be more important to explore for an athlete or a coach than the state of the ‘Culture of Running’, where our culture is deficient and how we can improve it.
My name is René Borg and since my mid-twenties I have been obsessed with running. Understanding and perfecting the art of running remains my quest and will be a life-long mission.
I began as a naive novice, became a broken bitter veteran of hundreds of races before stumbling on a way to rebuild my body. This journey of mine is not complete, nor will it ever be, but during the last decade it became clear to me that to change running for the better, we must alter the culture surrounding running.
This begins by changing our beliefs and our thoughts so athletes naturally gravitate toward the correct action for every situation they encounter rather than the wrong one.
On this website I want to examine topics deeply and thoroughly through the format of essay, narrative and discourse. I am not here to provide final answers but to stimulate deep thinking and discussion fuelled towards new answers rather than reinforcing or defending long established dogmas.
The first criteria of a successful running culture – in my opinion – must be a constant re-assessment, and questioning, of theory divorced from personal experience and specific real-time situations you find yourself in. It must be to have a lack of respect for ‘authority’ and courage to stand up to the mainstream and majority opinions. Only this way can our running culture become progressive rather than regressive.
I have chosen culture as the fulcrum of all discussions for this site although I could just as readily have called this site the ‘Philosophy of Running’. Wikipedia defines philosophy as ‘the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.’ In truth, I want to explore exactly the fundamental nature of the knowledge, reality and our existence as it relates to the physical activity and the sporting culture of running. Why? Because the accuracy of our knowledge about the fundamental nature of what governs running – how precise our map of reality and the place of our existence within it – will lead to the creation of a culture more or less matched to the Natural Laws. A culture mismatched to the physical laws that govern reality (and there are no other fundamental laws) will produce sub-optimal results. I want to move our Running Culture to a point as finely matched to the physical laws as possible – a perfect cocoon for hatching perfectly formed running butterflies. A correct philosophy of running therefore becomes an essential antecedent of a successful running culture. Faulty thinking leads to retarded culture and poor results. Accurate thinking requires a systems view of the world but I will not explore this in so much details here as Ivan Rivera has already done so with great flair on his website ‘Running in Systems‘.
Equally, I could have named this site ‘Running Technique’; technique being the ‘skill of doing’ in this context action being the output of ‘doing’. We will touch on technique many times but it will not be the central topic here because technique is a product of culture not the other way around. Kenyan Running Culture creates a higher average level of technique than Irish Running Culture. Here we will explore ‘why’, rather than zoom into technique and miss the wider picture. Geographically, Ireland will be the epicentre of my musings as the culture I am emerged in on a daily basis with Europe and ‘The West’ also at the heart of the topics. The running cultures further from my epicentre hold up a mirror and a contrast to tease out the issues, we experience especially in the case of the wildly successful running cultures of Kenya, Ethiopia and Japan.
In Science today, we understand that the environment, not the gene, holds primacy and controls everything. Epigenetic switches exist in your body and respond to the signals you receive from around you like a piano returns harrowing noise or beautiful music based on the fingers that touch the keys. Culture serves as the social dimension of the environment around us but our human cultures also actively and constantly alter the environment around us (changing the air, the water, everything). Change the culture and we can change the environment and we change the epigenetic settings of each individual. Optimal culture will lead to optimal gene expression and optimum results. This last point is important: if we perceive culture as something vague and not concrete, we will not take it seriously as something we need to worry about. I believe the key to all human happiness comes through improvement of culture. I decide on this blog to focus on how to improve the culture around the sport and activity of running. I hope you will enjoy this journey and the ideas and thoughts – high and low – that will be presented here. This blog will be a harsh and critical exposition of current culture – change does not come from politeness, self-satisfaction or embracing a culture of mediocrity where everyone deserves a pat on the back. I do not want us to settle for ‘good’ when ‘great’ or ‘astounding’ is possible. Our culture, as I hope to show, is not even ‘good’ and a long way from ‘great’, in most respects, and I will begin this story here in my next blog ‘The Predicament of the West’ and then zoom in on one aspect where improvement is needed in ‘The 4-Hour Coach’.
Authors note: After listening to a recent podcast with business-man Dan Pena the second post of the blog covered a topic of his ‘our fear of failure‘.