This great research paper of Marcel Nemec “Catharsis – philosophical and spiritual aspects of long-distance running” really caught my attention (Acta Facultatis Educationis Physicae Universitatis Comenianae, 42-52; Vol. 56 No 1 2016). The findings showed that catharsis represents a relevant philosophical and spiritual aspect that influences long distance running. The authors assume that an authentic experience of catharsis and its effects motivates runners to perform regular physical activity. The analysis of the philosophical and spiritual aspects of distance running revealed a multispectral holistic relevance based on the transfer affecting a specific way of life, a spectrum of values, ethical personality traits, and also the quality of long distance runners’ lives. The aim of the study was to identify and analyze the occurrence of cathartic states in a sample of long-distance runners. Data collected through questionnaires were used to quantitatively assess variables in the context of philosophical and spiritual aspects of long distance running.
According to them, long distance running events fall into the category of track and field and are determined primarily by endurance. Long distance running puts a lot of emphasis on voluntary effort in both training and competition and requires a balanced type of personality. The runner is endowed with high levels of perseverance, patience and tolerance for monotonous physical activity. In terms of training requirements, education towards self-reflection is an integral part of a runner’s long-term training preparation. To perform physical activity in nature, where these runners appear, there is considerable volume in their training. Nature enables inner purification – catharsis, renewal of the essential and natural connection with oneself, with other people and with the world.
Catharsis (purification) refers to a concept that comes from ancient Greek aesthetics, which characterizes the aesthetic effects of art on man. Catharsis probably includes both physiological moments (relief of emotional tension) and ethical moments (cultivation of human emotions) that are synthesized in an aesthetic experience. Catharsis in sports is related to emotional states of depletion following sports performance, for example when an athlete feels satisfied after performing a sustained sporting activity.
Catharsis is also known as purification, which represents complete awareness of oneself and thus what “his life really represents”. The spirituality of sports allows us to study the general sense of spirituality that is applied and embodied in the practice of sports and also how specific religious movements in their interpretation of spirituality are related to sports. They add that the meaning of spirituality deviates significantly from the original Christian discipline to seek spirituality that is not influenced by religion. Spirituality can become not only a symbol of religious beliefs, but also a way of searching for the feeling of life, perceiving the depth of life through ethical and aesthetic exposure to the dimensions of the world, longing for harmony and a transcendental experience. Nemec’ and his colleagues assume that the structure of people’s motivation to run, and also to participate in mass running events, includes a spiritual dimension of running that is perceived by the personality of the runner.
In the specific study conducted by Nemec’, the sample included 74 runners, 48 men and 26 women. The average age of the runners who were active participants in running events in 2014 was 26 years. A relatively young age for the amateur ultra runners I know. The runners filled out a questionnaire in order to collect data on cathartic situations they experienced.
Over ninety percent of the runners testified to a feeling of “purification” during the run. This feeling is attributed to the feeling of well-being that comes from neutralizing negative feelings during the aerobic running phase. This is indeed an authentic experience for the runners. A similar percentage reported “inner peace” during the run. This feeling is also attributed to the neutralization of negative emotions. The authors claim that this sense of continuous inner harmony is one of the goals of the runners’ ongoing spiritual activity.
The researchers tested the peak sense of harmony by asking the runners if they experienced a deep connection with the external environment while running. Here the percentage of positive respondents decreased to seventy percent, and the claim is that the decrease is due to the fact that it is more difficult to neutralize external influences from the whole experience. But what did the runners think of themselves at the end of the run? Were they satisfied with themselves? Here about seventy percent answered positively. The researchers claim that the reason for this is that running such distances is not seen as a necessary sacrifice for the purpose of training for “health” or “weight loss”. In their opinion, the reason is that these runners experience running as a complex activity that affects all dimensions of their lives, the essence of their existence.
Particularly interesting are the runners’ references to the role of running in their lives beyond the physical activity. A third of the runners reported that in addition to being physically active, running for them is a form of internal purification. In the case of these runners it strengthens perception and understanding of philosophical and spiritual aspects of long distance running. Fifteen percent of the runners reported that in addition to being physical, active running represented a form of self-fulfillment for them. In this context, it is assumed that the term “self-fulfillment” is understood from the perspective of striving for performance as an achievement of a sporting level (breaking a personal record, achieving a certain time limit), or obtaining an expected position in a competition, or as participating in a major sporting event (participating in a popular marathon race). This group of runners may be considered a hidden group of runners, who may approach philosophical and spiritual aspects of running through their authentic experience.
Many of the runners reported two most powerful experiences while running – self-satisfaction and self-conquest. Cathartic aspect in the context of long distance running and the experience of self-satisfaction may be expressed metaphorically as “fulfillment of a goal” through successful participation in a race.
A demanding training load. Hertz’s experience of self-conquering probably occurs out of overcoming critical situations caused by fatigue and exhaustion. Successful handling of such critical situations is perceived by the runners as a satisfaction related to overcoming the decisive factor of the situation. Critical situations accompanied by physical and mental exhaustion expose the runners to an authentic confrontation with the perception of hidden dimensions of life and allow the runners to deal with the field of philosophical knowledge, or with a spiritual field of experiences. Ten percent of the runners reported states of self-awareness, euphoria and joy as the strongest experiences. These statements by runners indicate philosophical and spiritual aspects of long-distance running, which are to some extent influenced by cathartic processes.
The researchers conclude that the research findings showed that catharsis represents a spiritual and philosophical aspect that affects long-distance running. They assume that an authentic experience of catharsis and its effects motivate runners to perform regular physical activity. This analysis of philosophical and spiritual aspects of long-distance running revealed a holistic relevance based on transference affecting a specific way of life, a spectrum of values, ethical personality traits, and also the quality of life of long-distance runners.