On the drive up to the Catskills, the rising sun was hidden behind a wall of murky fog, but its rays reached out from behind and scattered across the sky, brushing the undersides of clouds with the color and texture of beaten copper.
My mission this morning was to take on the Devil’s Path, one of the most notorious hiking trails in the country — and not just once, but twice. This meant a total distance of 48 miles and something like 28,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The purpose was to whip myself into shape for an upcoming solo run in the Catskills, as well as experience the Devil’s Path in its entirety, something I had never done before.
This is a revised version of an earlier post in which I described an adventure in the Catskills undertaken in part as an experiment in “askeisis,” the ancient Greek concept of physical and spiritual training. The revised version was published Saturday in Stoicism Today, a blog sponsored by University of Exeter on the topic of ancient Greek and Roman Stoic philosophy applied to modern living.
Reproduced with permission from the author, Lorraine Anderson, here is a recent social media post that caught my eye:
So I’m hiking in the woods, loving the serenity and alone time with nature, and all of a sudden comes running a super fast runner up the mountain I was going down. It was a man wearing only a black pair of shorts. He was really super fast and quiet, if it wasn’t for the leaves underfoot , I wouldn’t have heard anything, no heavy breathing, light on his feet, I cheer him on as he approaches I say ‘way to go, you’re doing great! He smiles and says yesterday I ran up here carrying a rock. I said, Omgoogness! That’s awesome! What are you training for I ask. He says ‘life’ with a big smile. I said I love it ❤ that’s the best ❤
Note: Carrying rocks uphill was a training method popular among Yurok Indians of northwest California.
You can follow Lorraine’s blog feelfitforever on wordpress.com — I particularly enjoyed a recent post in which she recalled her childhood love for nature.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advises Arjuna to “strive to still the mind,” which reminds me of a point made by 2nd century Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius:
It is in your power, whenever you choose, to retire into yourself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
One day, while waiting for the subway, I decided to give it a try. Instead of fretting at the wait, I put away my phone and stood still. Anxiety faded, and the surroundings came into focus, as I slowly let out my breath.
A visual image had helped me make the transition: I imagined moving a gear shift into neutral. Then I wondered, could I shift into neutral while running?
A few weeks ago, my wife and a couple friends participated in The Great Saunter, a 30+ mile circumnavigation of Manhattan along the city’s Waterfront Greenway, and reported that they had had a great time. This seemed like a promising exercise for me, too, and not just for the training miles, but also for the experience of circling the island, which I had never done before. Accordingly, last Saturday morning after a cappuccino and a handful of mixed nuts, I headed out to Riverside Park on Manhattan’s west side. It was a beautiful, clear spring morning, with the forecast calling for sunny skies and moderate temperatures, although as I would learn later the temperature would peak at 91 F.
I recently stumbled across a blog post from April 2015 in which NY Times writer Gretchen Reynolds was discussing the “right dose” of exercise to increase longevity. Her article was based on two new “impressively large-scale” studies that she thought would provide “clarity” on the topic.
It’s a principal of toxicology that “the dose makes the poison.” In other words, drugs that are beneficial in small does may be toxic if you take more than the prescribed amount. For many people, exercise might as well be a toxic chemical: they want to know what is the minimum dosenecessary to stay healthy. Even better if they could take a pill and not have to break a sweat.
My attitude is different. It seems sad to me that a natural activity like exercise would be “dosed” like a pharmaceutical. And in any case, I’m skeptical about scientists who claim they can measure such things.
My faith in humanity was restored, however, when I read the post’s top-ranked comments: readers had raised interesting questions about the studies’ logic, disputed the purpose of the article, and taken Reynolds to task for naivete.
In fact, after reflecting on the comments, I’ve concluded that the “right dose” of exercise is the maximum amount possible…
A recent post on New York Magazine’s website gushed about ultra-marathoners who run in a state of “flow,” a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the experience of people who are focused, productive, and happy. According to the author, even casual runners recognize flow as “getting in the zone, cranking out your best stuff, and just being awesomely lost in a creative process.” Endorphin-induced feelings of accomplishment, focus, and strength produce in the runner a “near-spiritual feeling of Zen and nirvana,” the author asserts. The premise seems simple: run, experience flow, and you’ll become happier and more productive.
But if you read Csikszentmihalyi’s work, you’ll find it’s not that easy.
Genuinely happy individuals are few and far between.
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience