My husband is addicted to documentaries. His main obsession is with various fairly revolting creatures (spiders, snakes, insects) mating and murdering one another or sharks and other predators of land and sea, doing the same. This is not my thing, but every now and then I am intrigued by one of them and participate, usually while eating dinner (not necessarily a great combo.)
A few nights ago, however, the Smithsonian channel ran a documentary called: The Perfect Runner, which seemed like something you could eat a salad while viewing without closing your eyes. The narrator was a jock reporter and (guess what?) A RUNNER. And the premise with which it began was that the human body today is just about exactly the same as the human body of 200,000 years ago when what we were designed for was non-stop running around.
Now, this made sense for then. First, well, there wasn’t a lot to do and second, running meant either fleeing some of the beasts featured in those other documentaries or chasing after the evening meal. Quite logical, given the alternative (death).
Cut to Runner/Reporter in a lab at some university where two, fairly generic, nerdy little scientists (who are also . . . I think you can fill that in yourselves). Their premise, which as the hour progressed seemed increasingly more verisimilitude than hard science, was that we are absolutely wasting our lives, and health by doing things (they do not say this, this is me filling in the blanks) like THINKING RATHER THAN RUNNING ALL THE TIME. We are wasting our non-evolved bodies, since they are perfectly designed to run enormous distances for days at a time. Hmmmm.
Then Runner/Reporter guy shows us examples. Not sophistry exactly, in the dark definition of the word, but sort of benign sophistry, none the less. Cut to a really, really remote part of the Siberian tundra where a tribe of Siberian Tundra dwellers live with a herd of 3,500 reindeer (probably Santa rejects) that provide them with everything they need to keep warm and to provide food.
They control these very large, antlered animals by, RUNNING around them in and out, back and forth and for some reason that defies understanding except the obvious one (they are really, really stupid) the reindeer never seem to figure out that all they have to do is NOT LET THEM. A quick gore here, a stampede, maybe? They don’t. So, Runner/Reporter makes the hypothesis that because they can run for hundreds of miles a week herding, chasing, wearing out the reindeer (they overheat, we are one of the only mammals with pores, so we can sweat and release heat but reindeers can only pant until they drop.) Run, run, run. I didn’t see any women running; though the herders were pretty shrouded in reindeer schmattes, so it was kind of hard to determine sex. How this might affect the data, (women not running but gabbing away in the comfort of their hide-covered huts, and dying young OR living longer?)
Now we cut to a town in the mountains of Ethiopia. This was a personal viewing challenge because I can never even think of a town in Ethiopia (not that that is one of the things I think about) without South Park popping into my head but, again, Runner/Reporter picked it because as even I know, the world’s greatest RUNNERS come from there. No offense to the Ethiopian people, but if I lived in one of the grim, shitholes they showed and I could run really fast, Addis Ababa here I come. Really, really desolate villages of such dire poverty and hopelessness that running is about their only hope and EVERYBODY RUNS.
Barefoot, too. Mostly because they can’t afford shoes; not to mention the fact that besides living high in the mountains, thus greater lung capacity, they are very tall, very skinny and have PERFECT RUNNER bodies. I did notice, however, that the very special runners, who are good enough to get out of there and run all over the world and win almost every race they run, wear SHOES, despite nerdy scientist guys (I’m segueing back to the lab now) and their numerous computer models of the human foot and it’s wonders and our ability to run barefoot for a 100 miles without stopping! And how much better it is to run barefoot as we did 200,000 years ago (Though the possibility of a Nike Store somewhere in some cave can’t be ruled out completely).
Okay, now we get to the drama part, such that it was. Runner/Reporter has been in training for something called a Triple Marathon, which involves running 72 miles of the most difficult terrain imaginable, up and down mountains, uneven rocky trails, through the night without stopping. This is another example of an increasingly competitive form of narcissism that is taking over the world. There are many forms (my next Blog will deal with the Plastic Surgery version) but, they are all linked. These runners reduce any woozy slog who thought running any one of the 26 miles of flat turf with lots of support marathons, to the new equivalent of a couch potato.
So, to train for this excruciating adventure, he has spent a year running an average of 60 miles a week everywhere from Antarctica to Africa, in knee high snow and stuporous heat. Of course, he’s being paid to do this, the other participants, are just INSANE.
You cannot even imagine how grueling this is (I mean just watching it). I remember having a, well, little debate with my husband when Lance Armstrong was his God-like figure. I said something like, “He rides a bicycle for a living! Even if he rides it better than anyone on the planet, who can he be to talk to?” I still enjoy an inner smirk about that call.
It seems that our increasing need to outdo others and thrust ourselves into situations where we keep raising the stakes of competitiveness is at work here. I wish I could understand the need for this, other than the desire to feel you are more special than anyone you know in your runner’s club or whatever. But this is the new model for all you mortals who just run or jog or whatever because it is good exercise, keeps you in shape and allows that ice cream sundae or extra slice on the weekend.
Back to the lab and the failure of the conclusion to the hypothesis (by the way the Reporter made it 62 miles before his body, not being Ethiopian or a Siberian tundra dweller, basically told him to knock it off or else). So these scientists are blabbing about how we are wasting our lives, bodies and what evolution has given us by sitting at COMPUTERS and doing all these silly things like making diagrammatic models of feet and thinking and trying to cure cancer and writing and creating music and art and doing all the work that is essential in our evolving world. These all involve SITTING DOWN and using that other, unmentioned part of the human being; starts with a B, too. Are they kidding?
I’m imagining a huge group of Wall St. dudes, and CEO’s and lawyers, male and female, lining up their wing tips and Choos and Manolos, on a wall in Central Park and herding reindeer. Running in and out, slaughtering here and there. The women, skinning their prey, rather than hitting the Fendi Fifth Ave. fur sale.
After an hour of this, I knew I was listening to another form of media madness. If you come up with AN IDEA and can get it funded, no one seems to question whether it makes any sense. And I am pretty sure, many people with some angst in their daily lives, especially since Mt. Everest has become sort of a joke, rather like a combo garbage heap, Sherpa exploiting, “anyone can do that” deal, are pondering their next challenge, not brain or talent based, more like “my body is what I was evolved to use and I am going to fucking RUN like my Paleolithic bros!”
Oh, Runner/Reporter left out a truly unbelievable example right here in the U.S. It seems, every year in Queens there is a 3,100 mile run covering a month or so. The runners run round and round one very long block averaging 60 MILES A DAY, if they don’t drop dead from either the exertion or the boredom. Day job anyone?
And, as for those lab nerds, sitting at their computers devising “proof” that we should not ever sit down? I’ll leave that for a future South Park episode.