The Spiritual Life of Long-Distance Runners

In a recent New Yorker article, Adam Alter explores the psychological and spiritual motivations of ultra-marathon runners, that is, people who run distances longer than the conventional marathon (26.2 miles) in races that sometimes last hundreds and even thousands of miles.  Alter, who is associate professor of marketing at the Leonard Stern School of Business, where he also has an affiliated appointment in the psychology department, asks the “obvious question,”  why would someone choose to do this?

But the really interesting question is, why would professor Alter want to know?

After all, the questions we ask reveal a lot about who we are and what we seek.

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The Spiritual Life of Long-Distance Runners

Slaying the Sugar Dragon

For many of us, too much sugar is a bad thing, and ditto for processed carbs, like bread, pasta, and rice, which are similar to sugar in terms of how quickly they digest and how much glucose they dump into the bloodstream, with unhealthy consequences.

So the question is, if sugar and processed carbs aren’t healthful, why would you ever eat them?

Well, it’s easy to rationalize.  We crave variety in our diet.  Rather than taking an extremist stand, we should”seek moderation in all things.”  And, of course, sugar and carbs taste great.

But here’s the real answer:  in addition to being cheap and ubiquitous, there are reasons to suspect that sugar and processed carbs are addictive.

That’s why the modern food industrial complex stuffs its products with sugar and carbs.  So does your favorite neighborhood restaurant.  Family and friends delight in serving you the unhealthy substances that they themselves may be addicted to.  In the battle to eat healthfully, we’re on our own.

Over the years, I’ve cut back significantly on the sugar and processed carbs in my diet.  It’s been a long journey and a bit of a battle.  But “significantly” isn’t the same as “totally,” and so I’m faced with my own question:  why would I eat any of this stuff?

One day a few weeks ago, feeling in the mood to pick a fight, I decided to embark on an experiment.  The goal would be to cut out fully 100% of the processed carbs from my diet for a period of one week.  It would be interesting to see how hard this would be.

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Slaying the Sugar Dragon

Lookout Mountain 50-mile Race Report

Driving through Chattanooga a couple years ago, I had glanced up at the long ridge looming above the serpentine coils of the Tennessee River, recalling a decisive Civil War battle had been fought there and wondering what it would be like to stand upon the summit.

Lookout Mountain (on the left), seen from Chattanooga, TN.  Credit:

When a last-minute conflict scuttled plans for a mid-November race, I stumbled upon the Lookout Mountain 50-miler, which fit neatly into the last open weekend of the year.  This time there would be no conflict.

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Lookout Mountain 50-mile Race Report


Having just completed an 87-mile training week, I was disappointed in the results, although hardly surprised:

I had averaged a depressing 10 hours per day sitting.

This conclusion was based on diary that tracked how I spent my time over the last week:  sitting, standing, walking, running, and lying down.

The motivation for this exercise was the growing concern among healthcare professionals about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle, especially too much sitting.  Indeed, according to one recent study, more than 7 hours a day sitting could be unhealthy.  In which case, I’m at risk.

sedentary 1
Time spent in different activities (average daily hours and percentage of total) for the period December 7-13, 2015

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Getting to Know the Corbitts

Ted Corbitt, known as the “father of long distance running,” is famous for many accomplishments.  I had heard that his training regime included weeks where he’d run 200 miles or even 300.  I couldn’t imagine how someone could do that while working full time.  And why would you want to?

And so it was with great interest that I attended a presentation hosted by the New York Road Runners featuring Corbitt’s son, Gary, who shared personal insights about his father and talked about the history of the New York running scene.

Ted Corbitt, 1957

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Getting to Know the Corbitts

Gertrude’s Nose

I hadn’t been out to Gertrude’s Nose in many years, so I jumped at the opportunity to join Hudson Valley photographer Steve Aaron on a hike, and of course, Odie the Labradoodle was eager to come, too.  In fact, when I hopped in the car to run an errand (I was going to come back and get him), Odie was so upset, he cried and howled.  So Odie came with me on the errand, and then we headed off to Minnewaska State Park Preserve and the trail to Gertrude’s Nose.


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Gertrude’s Nose

What We Think About When We Run: Murakami

(An updated version of this post was published in The New Rambler)

“What are they thinking?”

In a recent New Yorker article, Kathryn Schulz ponders the 50,000 participants in the New York City Marathon, curious about what running could teach us of the “deep strangeness” of the human brain.  Her essay discusses research studies and books about running, including Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  Murakami is not only an internationally acclaimed author who’s been lauded as one of the world’s greatest living novelists, he is also a long-distance runner who’s completed thirty marathons including New York City.  I was therefore somewhat surprised when Schulz dismissed his book as doing “very poor justice” to the question of what people think about while running.  She found it “neither inspirational nor aspirational nor descriptive.” Rather, it was “banal.”

It’s true, Murakami’s book has an ordinary tone and lacks the whimsical, surreal touches that grace his fiction.  But in re-reading the book, I found it addressed Schulz’ question head-on, just not in the way she might have expected. You see, when you’re running, what may matter more is what you’re not thinking….


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What We Think About When We Run: Murakami