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I watched a man win, and set a new world record, the five thousand metre steeple chase last Saturday. The look on his face was a joy to behold. As he neared the finish line the camera closed in for this monumental achievement focusing on a visage shattered by exhaustion. Here was a body that had diverted everything non-essential into the parts required to maintain the gruelling pace he’d set, and the fraction he had left to actually accelerate in the final stretch of the race, but there was one part of this visage which was far from finished… his eyes! While his whole face, literally, sagged from fatigue, his eyes were focused, points of sheer will. There was something in that diamond glitter which would allow for no rebellion; his body might be screaming, “STOP!” but his mind, his will, was in absolute control. I found this to be spectacularly beautiful, and more than a little inspiring.

I have been training someone recently. They are relatively young and like so very many today (and perhaps in every ‘day’ before), are not in good shape. The world seems to be suffering from a decline in general fitness. I’m not referring to obesity, which is perhaps coming a little more under control as people become a little more health conscious; people are, in my limited experience, taking steps to either reduce their weight or not to put themselves in a situation where they need to, but looking healthy is very different from being healthy.

When, if ever, does the mind learn it’s in charge? There’s a point in your exercise regime when you reach a level of fitness when you can run for more than half an hour, more than an hour, without having to go into some titanic battle of wills with your body. When you reach this point, arm yourself with some cunningly arranged playlists, find a route fairly free of distraction (I personally like places free from large numbers of people; the dry dirt paths running around fields and villages, but anywhere will do at a pinch), and just run (‘running’ being just one example).

You pace out the first fifteen minutes or so until your body releases whatever it releases to relax your muscles, expand your lungs, and generally fortify itself, and then you are free… you effortlessly pick up the pace, stretching out your stride, trotting like some thoroughbred stallion, and either watch the world go by or lose yourself in your musings. As you run you might slowly continue to accelerate, precisely timing your energy expenditure so as you come to the last five or ten minutes you’re now speeding along in an exhilarated exultation of your own strength, and finishing in a punishing sprint rejoice in this overwhelming feeling of potency and vigour.

It is such a shame so few people ever push past the limits the body deceives them into believing, for just on the other side are feelings much akin to my imaginings of immortality…

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