Tag Archives: social constructs

Systemic paradigms and their repercussions: the athletic phenomenon of “heel-striking,” and its origins in scientific reductionism.

It would be misleading to say that the philosophical currents that drive society affect our behavior and influence events. It’s much more accurate to say that those philosophical currents largely determine our patterns of behavior and generate those events.

The widespread and damaging athletic phenomenon of heel-striking is no exception.

(By “heel-striking” I refer to the global set of gait characteristics which results in the runner putting their weight on the heel of the landing foot ahead of the center of mass).

Systems thinking proposes that our “mental models”—our belief systems about the world—create the very fabric of society, and therefore the patterns of behavior that emerge. The repercussions that our worldview has on our thought, our social structure, and our lives, are vast, and they are powerful.

Continue reading Systemic paradigms and their repercussions: the athletic phenomenon of “heel-striking,” and its origins in scientific reductionism.

The benefits of developing a healthy, dialectic relationship with pain.

One way or another, most of us have an unhealthy relationship with pain. Either we’re scared of it, or we try to overcome it. In both situations, pain is the enemy. But our relationship with pain doesn’t have to be of enmity. If we understand it, it can become a great asset in training and in life.

This especially goes for runners: we’ve become socially conditioned to believe that running is just painful. According to society, when you run, pain is gonna happen anyway, and because running “is injurious”—it’s just that way—well, there’s no point in listening to it, to what it’s telling us about our bodies, and figuring out how to modify our running accordingly. Because running is injurious, our body will break at some point, so we might as well just wait until something happens and then go see the physical therapist.

But pain itself can help us guard against injury. We just have to get to know what it’s telling us.

Continue reading The benefits of developing a healthy, dialectic relationship with pain.

Workouts don’t develop the body. Resting after them does.

I often hear fellow athletes and fitness enthusiasts bemoan that they missed a workout.

There’s a lot of reasons people have this attitude. Maybe someone’s counting calories, and they are too tired to burn their allotted amount today. Maybe they have a strict training plan, and they feel obliged to stick to it. Maybe someone’s worried that if they stop they’ll never go back because they’ve hated the workouts, hated the nutrition, and only do it for the looks—or the speed.

You can’t “miss” a day of training, especially if you’ve been training so much (or eating so little) that the reason you missed training today is because you’re exhausted. Continue reading Workouts don’t develop the body. Resting after them does.

Why we can’t “get fit:” Societal standards, negative-feedback loops, and the hedonic treadmill.

Many of us work out to “get fit.” But “getting fit” doesn’t really exist in the world, except as an ill-defined idea. In a multitude of ways, it’s just vague: The “standard” for fitness is mostly unclear—is it how bodies perform? Is it how bodies that can supposedly perform should look? What particular kind of performance is it? Running? Bodybuilding? Or is it about looking like we can perform some particular physical activity (regardless of whether we actually can)?

But let’s not stop here: “Getting fit” is vague in various other ways: When does it “end”? (In other words, how do we know we’ve “gotten” fit)? Is it when we’ve reached some particular aesthetic standard? Some particular functional standard? I’ve been training for most of my life, and I’m no closer to answering these questions—not that I think they need answering.

Because these ideas are so vague, and the questions seem to yield such contradictory answers, my conclusion is that our notions of “getting fit” are (and have been) entirely missing the point.

Continue reading Why we can’t “get fit:” Societal standards, negative-feedback loops, and the hedonic treadmill.

Ultrarunning and the ideal female body

I found this very interesting article, titled Beyond the Marathon: (De)Construction of Female Ultrarunning Bodies.

As with most scholarly works, it’s both dense and eloquent. In addition, it brings up several interesting points, including, (but not limited to) the following:

  • In a sport such as ultrarunning, the ideal performance body is often defined by an ideal body shape.
  • The authors, however, also hypothesize that ultrarunning may be more amenable than other sports (and other social situations) to allow women to self-determine, i.e. to create a (more) unique identity.

In other words, this article examines an interface between a biological system (the body), a physical system (the demands of the race) and a social system (the female ideal). 

In a future blog post I’ll discuss this article at length, paying special attention to its findings in relation to the mission of my blog.

But for now, I’m curious to know what you think about the article, or about how the biological-physical system and social systems interact in ultrarunning, running, or the sports culture. In other words:

  • How do you think that social dynamics (and identity politics) influence running, sports, and ultrarunning?
  • How do you think that physical systems of running, ultrarunning, and sports as a whole, influence the emergence of particular social dynamics?

UPDATE: For your convenience, here is the abstract: 

This article examines the ways in which high-performance female ultrarunning bodies are created and understood through the discourses of the normative running body, the ideal female body and pain. Using a Foucauldian framework, this paper shows how the ultrarunning body becomes a desired body beyond the marathon and how these same desires produce multiple and complex subjectivities for female ultrarunners. In-depth interviews were conducted with 8 high performance female ultrarunners. Findings suggest that ultrarunning is a sporting space which gives rise to more diverse subjectivities than previously found in distance running literature. Simultaneously, this discourse produces disciplined bodies through the mode of desire and “unquestioned” social norms, paralleling the constructs of extreme sports and (re)producing middle-classness.