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You’ll never find true love running a marathon or pumping iron. Discuss.

I am running a half marathon in a few weeks. I’ve never done this before and so, after a particularly heroic 12 mile run along Brighton seafront, I thought it wise to see a sports masseur. You know, to have someone bang some feeling back into my calves.

He was quite a character. Within 2 minutes he had delivered a stern homily about the terrible damage running does to the body. 45 minutes in he implied that my inability to relax my inner thigh muscle was due to unconscious resistance. (I’ve yet to even locate the muscle in question let alone the seething mass of unconscious and no-doubt traumatic tension that’s holding it tight.)

Power and control are the exact opposites of what true connection needs

In between these rather doomy messages he did, however, say something very, very interesting.

Almost as an aside, he said, “I noticed, long ago, that people who run and those who go to the gym tend to be people obsessed with power and control. Running and getting big gym bodies allows them to control and overpower all their difficult emotions. But, of course, ultimately it stops them getting the thing that they’re really longing for: connection. Because power and control are the exact opposites of what true connection needs – which is vulnerability and spontaneity.”

I’d never really thought about it in those terms but – in between kneading out the knots in my trapezoids. I think my masseur was spot on.

You are potentially cutting yourself off from some very human-making experiences.

I did, in fact, start running to deal with a broken heart. And there was a sense of running the emotions away. The cascades of endorphins and the kick of cortisol both dislodge unpleasant moods states. I suppose in moderation, that’s a good thing. But as I approach the cusp of endurance running (half-marathons, marathons, iron men) I can totally see that this feeling of Power and Control (I’m pretty sure he capitalised them when he spoke) is risky territory. When you run to escape vulnerability and emotional pain – you are potentially cutting yourself off from some very human-making experiences.

I wonder if “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” is more than a book title.

From personal experience, I can also see that this is true of pumping iron. The gay scene is full of massively muscular, massively insecure people who hammer their bodies in the gym. Perhaps, to feel powerful in a world that routinely humiliated them. The danger remains that controlling and overpowering that feeling of weakness, humiliation and uncertainty, sends it underground where it goes festery and foul. Besides, shared weakness is what glues us together.

Maybe, I won’t sign up for more marathons – or maybe I’ll just do them differently. Running with my gay buddies and spontaneously breaking into close-harmony renditions of tear-jerking power ballads. That might also help me relax my thigh muscle. Who knows?

I’d love to know your thoughts about running and exercise. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

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