A year and a half ago I read a book by Bernd Heinrich called Why We Run: A Natural History. The author is a half-crazy German evolutionary-biologist. He decided he wanted to be a very good runner, and so plumbed the depths of his own specialty to do it. He looked at how bees can fly so far without tiring; how gazelles can move so quickly; how birds can hop over continents. He tried to follow their examples. And then he looked at human history and the role that running played for some ancient peoples. He explained that humans are naturally damn strong runners. Groups of people (and I mean men, women, and some older children even) can run down gazelles. Human beings can outrun horses (hilariously enough, there is a race between horses and men in, of course, Wales). Bernd Heinrich took this knowledge, started experimenting by fueling his body in various ways during his runs. He tried drinking olive oil and carrying beer, but he settled on Welch's grape juice eventually. Then he broke the 100 km distance record. I came away from this book thinking two things. Firstly, Germans are insane. But secondly and more significantly, people are built to last.
He hit upon something else in his book, which was also mentioned in Born To Run. Ancient runners could chase down gazelles because of foresight. Gazelles see a man chasing them and they dash away, ver,y very quickly and lose a whole lot of energy doing so, while the man just keeps plodding along. Because we can imagine ourselves enjoying the endgame, we can finish marathons or run down a horse. It's all about motivation, and people are capable of finding motivation in the unseeable future. Some even credit these distant hunts as the stimulus which spurned the growth of the prefrontal cortex. And anybody who works in youth development knows that foresight is one of the best things you can learn as a kid.
But what if you're too focused on a point ahead? You forget the best way to make it there- steady and unyielding. In my first marathon I took off for the first 10 miles at an absolutely unsustainable speed. I was pumped to be churning up the ground in my first race and thinking about how good it would feel to make it across the finish line. And then I crashed. Each mile was slower than the last and I didn't pass a single other runner in the last 16 miles.
As I obsess on these points ahead, time has slowed. When you focus on the end you lose sight of the run itself. How nice it is to be moving along. And all that stuff along the way.
Now if only I could run in my site. I don't know where stray dogs, piles of trash, and psychopathic donkey-cart drivers fit in to the analogy.