A Labor of Love

Marx

My apologies in advance, but I want to talk philosophy. Not about the historically well-endowed Socrates, but instead of one bearded old German guy whose ramblings did justice to the feelings I share but have failed to articulate so profoundly. When I say his name, I expect the hypothetical room to go silent, ready? Karl Marx. I know. Unfortunately, as history would have it, most people think he just went on and on about communism and inspired everyone that America has ever hated [for some people, that’s our own President]. But I don’t want to turn this into a McCarthy-esque witch-hunt, and hope that I will not be misinterpreted as someone who thinks poor people deserve medical care too, because that’s just asinine! To the surprise of many, he had some good ideas and one in particular encapsulates everything I love about running, and that’s his theory of alienation.

“And this life activity [the worker] sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. … He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labor itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another.” -Karl Marx

Individuals used to be independent. Within the nuclei of our family, we would roam the land eating berries, stealing nuts from squirrels, and maybe even killing the occasional woolly mammoth. But at a certain point in time we discovered the benefits of not doing that, because that sounds hard. So we learned that if we settled within the comfort of a village, threw up some walls, and distributed the necessary tasks of survival, we’d have more time to play the newest video game consoles. This is specialization, and it was among the greatest achievements until sliced bread. But there is a nasty side effect of living in a socially stratified society [besides tax breaks for the rich], and that is because the estrangement of labor is real.

Inspired by the meatpacking district of Chicago in the mid-19th century, Henry Ford popularized the assembly line technique for the completion of the Model-T. Workers would stand next to the conveyor belt, focusing solely on one task, and upon its completion, would pass it along, and repeat the mind-numbing job. Between the first punch in and the last punch out, factory men remain unchallenged and replaceable while on the clock. There is a distance that exists between the worker and the product. His monotonous labor lacks any form of stimulation and he fails to see how his specific role contributes to the final result. An entire day is spent putting two pieces together, but never seeing the finished puzzle. That disconnect between the subject and the object is neglectful to the human spirit’s need to feel purposeful. This is why people are miserable.

For Marx, this problem could be solved by communism. But good luck enjoying your job when America hears you like sharing. Instead, I believe in an input-output model. When my passion for running began, it was addicting. Thinking back to the exhaustion from those first runs at the dawn of my career, it’s amazing I ever fell in love with the sport. I remember stopping to walk for a few minutes with a couple teammates when coach wasn’t looking. But as the miles passed by, I experienced small bouts of success daily. There was no more walking. A two-mile run felt about as hard as one-mile once was. And before long, I was running three and four daily. My paces were getting faster, and my personal bests were being lowered. I wanted more. And it was so simple; if I worked hard and smart, then I would run faster than before. For a confused kid wandering the labyrinth of a middle school’s hallways, I cherished the straightforwardness that came after the final bell. The correlation was direct, and the results were tangible. Motivation stemmed intrinsically, and I prided myself in what I was doing. And many miles and minutes of running later, the same phenomenon still exists. The more I put in, the more I get out.

In running, your labor is not replaceable. You cannot run a mile for a friend, or skip a day and make it up. But you can say that the times you run, and the races you win are all yours. That is because, in the end, your work is the final product.

———————————————

The past two weeks I have been on the road a bit as I spent a week working at 5 Star Cross-Country Camp, and then a week staying at a cabin in Maine. Déjà vu. I came home inspired, and hungry. Additionally, I had the chance to do a motivational talk of my own at Westwood XC Camp. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a few different camps, and it is always a fun way to get some kids excited about running. Those weeks away were motivating and fortunately, I have returned a bit more fit than when I left.

I have written before [on this blog] about the ‘Juice Theory,’ which values the added benefits of the gradual build up, so I will stay true to that, as I believe it has done me a lot of good so far during this summer. Under the guidance of Gags, I have been made patient, and in my 10th week, hit 60 miles in 6 runs. I will continue to climb a bit higher the next month, and I will slowly integrate some [very] easy workouts into the routine.

Additionally, I have been experiencing what I call the ‘Balloon Theory,’ which in short states: Fitness is like a balloon. It is much harder to blow up the balloon as it expands to a point that it has never been before. But once the air is let out, and an attempt to blow up the balloon again is made, it is much easier to achieve levels of expansion previously reached.

Now that I am home I have to figure out my apartment situation, and finding a job that is content to let me come in late everyday and have the freedom of traveling regularly. Ideally it’s not on an assembly line.

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Author: kylemerber

Kyle Merber is a professional runner for HOKA One One and the New Jersey*New York Track Club. He has personal bests of 3:34/3:52 but would prefer that not be included in his bio because he believes his writing should be judged independently. He tweets a lot @TheRealMerb.

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