Beast Mode and Running. Why Bother?

Running advice flows on a spectrum from "anything is great" to "it's never enough unless you win". Generally, it's the extremes that win out, as with everything else. Lately, I've read a lot of running stuff on the obnoxious end of the spectrum that presumes to tell you how to get into 'beast mode', or crush the competition.  

Now, this is the stuff that's past the four million "how to PR" articles out there. This is the wing of the running world that considers a race to be a mortal battle, treats running as the single most important thing in the universe.

The beast articles had an interesting effect on me-they annoyed the hell out of me and I wasn't sure why. Which, in turn, set me to thinking. What is the purpose of 'beast mode' and why the heck should I care.

Since I'm about as un-hip as they come, I turned to the internet, keeper of all that is hip, happening, and ten seconds from irrelevancy. Near as I can tell, beast mode has a dual meaning. First, to wig out and lose control of your anger as in "The dude went totally beast-mode and started smashing things.' Think The Hulk.

The second meaning is the one I think the running advice people are applying, to become tougher and more persistent to reach a goal. Generally, I'm in favor of toughness and persistence. I'm not the kind of person who likes to go out and do things half-assed, yet I still find the beast mode exhortations obnoxious.

It took me a while to figure out why. To get there, I had to revisit the reasons for running. In Born to Run, McDougall writes about the rise of persistence hunting in conjunction with brain development. What struck me in the book was the behavior described of the Kalahari bushmen and the games described for the Tarahumara. They both feature great runners at the front of the pack. They also both feature the pack, and the effort of those lesser runners to do their part to win the prize, whether a dead antelope or bragging rights.

In the case of persistence hunting, all the runners participate. First the weaker runners will do the early work of singling out the prey and driving it. Later, when the prey is weakened, the stronger runner closes in to finish the job. By spreading the work out among a group, the overall load on one runner is reduced, placing the prey at a distinct disadvantage. It is a cooperative exercise.

Likewise, the game played in the Copper Canyons was cooperative, with the teams moving as packs to keep the ball (I forget the term McDougall used) moving ahead. When it went off course, the pack split, retrieved it, and forwarded to the main group. Effectively, it's training for persistence hunting.

And that it the core of my antagonism toward the hucksters shouting at me to get into beast mode. I very rarely seen the term used by professional runners. The professional runner puts in work, usually in a team environment. Compared to the major revenue sports such as football and basketball, there's relatively little trash talking. They reserve the energy the wannabe's invest in beast mode for race day. They call it competing.

The beast mode attitude seems to be aimed at the lower tiers , usually either to establish self-declared the runner as one stage up the social ranking (much like pace is used to differentiate runners and joggers) or used by people who expect to make from those emotionally invested in that ranking. Pretty much to opposite of what the elites do, and what our ancestors did for survival.

Oh, and questioning beast mode is not allowed. Just ask someone who professes it as running philosophy.

Have a great weekend of running, however you like it.