Tag Archives: socialism

Running against myself

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watches Five months without a fight among friends have left me running more often than at any time since my eldest son was born. Six months ago, I believed that I was incapable of running more often than three times a week, and it just seemed obvious to me that if I tried to run more often I would inevitably suffer an injury, probably to my achilles tendon. When I ran three days a week I would get injured roughly ever 2-3 weeks or so. Counter-intuitively, five months of running six days a week has resulted in almost no running injuries at all. It is as if I have strengthened the muscles all around, protecting my lower legs where I remain vulnerable.

My running has been more varied than at any time in two decades. Highlights have included morning runs before London awakes and night runs while it sleeps (the night so dark that I could not see the ground beneath my feet); a gentle six miles through the hills and valleys of the Isle of Man with long stretches of the route ascending at an incline of 1:8; coastal paths of gorse descending to unmarked beaches; spring rhododendrons; the view of the city from Hampstead Heath. More of my running has been competitive, with had track sessions on Thursdays (work allowing), a parkrun about every two weeks, an 800 metre race, a track 5k, and a flat 5k around the Serpentine lido – all in just 4 months.

At this point, I know, several of my friends part company with me. Why do you need to run competitively they ask? Isn’t it enough just to enjoy the scenery and to allow your body to relax? If you consider yourself a socialist, then isn’t it a small act of treachery to your political beliefs to seek out races where you are running against people?

A possible defence would be to deny that the running is properly competitive at all, to insist that running clubs are co-operative as much as they are competitive and to insist that I am doing this only to build up my miles. But, in truth, I enjoy running fast. I am built physically for it: my stride is heavy, my best age-related times are for differences just about 400 metres (i.e. where much of the running, as it is for a sprinter, is anaerobic). To consider myself fast, I had to have some sort of comparative yardstick; there is something truly hollow about haring around a disused piece of inner city grassland for lap after lap chasing yourself with no-one to watch and no way to gauge your speed.

Indeed, I do think there is a point at which the competitiveness of sport can tip over and serve as a kind of ideological waymark towards the intensified market competition that we associate with neo-liberalism. Sebastian Coe‘s intense Toryism first shaped the way he ran and was then reinforced by competitive success, hisaccumulated cultural capital was used by New Labour to justify the Olympic bid, and he has used his sporting prowess to build links to and earning favours for Hague, Johnson and Cameron. Coe was always a lesser human being than Ovett, Cram or Elliott, whose attitude towards competition was always more nuanced, and who left the sport early in contrast to Coe, who hung on and on and took everything he could.

There is a chapter in Chumbawamba guitarist Boff Whalley’s brilliant book Running Wild which notes that even in the fell races of the mid-80s, which Whalley half-seriously suggests as a vision of an alternative libertarian future, the scoring rewarded teams which ran individually and did not encourage the faster runners to (for example) drop back and help the slowest runners.

And yet there are different ways to run, even within the same framework. Runners do often hold themselves back for their running comrades;  Ovett was as brilliantly indifferent to the tabloids as Coe was in thrall to them. At any humdrum athletics meeting,  you will find people who are there to give and those who are there to take, people who encourage and take pride in others’ performances and those who are trying to boost themselves.  All the races properly started, all the team brought to their starting destination, most of the infrastructure of any athletics team is maintained by people who are not competing (or not selfishly). Who timed Coe’s great races? Obviously not Coe, Cram or Elliott, or even Ovett.

What I best enjoy about running competitively is the sense of racing myself: there is something definitive about a runner’s time. You know at the end whether you getting faster or slowing. The numbers are as implacable as the figures for BMI or blood pressure, and, just like them, they tell you how far or not you are succeeding in defying the gravity of age.

Not Mad but Angry: Domestic Violence and Women’s Mental Health

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Guest post by Avenging Alix

The mentally ill are ‘other’ to the non-ill; they are different. Where the well are logical, functioning and able, the mentally ill are illogical, ineffective and disabled. Often, their condition seems without reason, and too often mental illness is portrayed as a negative character flaw, a defect of the human psyche. It is this schema that discounts the voices of those who are suffering.

Recently, I have been staying in a women’s crisis house. Since here, I have heard many women’s stories of rape and domestic abuse. Women describe the need to move from house to house as their abuser hunts them down repeatedly, terrorising them and their children. The women are on a constant vigil, scared to walk down the road, terrified to leave their home in case it is destroyed, terrified to remain in their home in case they themselves are destroyed. Their lives are decimated by one individual.

But where is the emphasis? Is it on the person who has destroyed their lives? Often the answer is no; frequently perpetrators are known to the police, and yet very little prevents them from continuing to act. Instead the impetus is placed on the woman, she is the one to move, she is the one to plan different routes each day to make sure she is safe from danger, and she is the one who must manoeuvre within an uncaring criminal justice system. The emphasis to change is placed on the victim.

As a society, our solution to the problem is to ensure that the women who can no longer carry the burden of humiliation, fear and terror are invalidated. Rape, abuse and sexual assault have been sensationalised to such an extent by the media that people have become afraid to even discuss the issue. This includes the professionals who are there to help support them.

People perceive rape as something rare, an abuse that is caused by mad, deranged and evil individuals who are easily identifiable. This fear means that, as a society, we become unwilling to discuss the subject, perhaps from fear that if it happened to her, it could happen to you as well. Therefore, when a woman who has been abused goes to a professional she may be given no real help.

The majority of GPs are woefully unaware of the services available to women who are suffering from the effects of abuse. Even the fantastic charities that do offer tailored support are underfunded; their waiting lists long, with many women waiting months, if not years, for support. During which time, their story is hidden.

Previously, I had hoped, naively, that women who had suffered any form of domestic violence or rape would be offered counselling and specialist support. This is rarely the case. A few may be able to access cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) within the NHS if their symptoms are ‘bad’ enough. However, the very nature of CBT discounts the importance of the women’s story, as it focuses on the here and now. The therapy aims to rejig thought processes to promote a change in behaviour – though helpful in some situations, the therapy effectively discounts the situation prior to the illness developing, instead treating the woman as a computer to be rewired.

Worse still, waiting lists can be months long, during which time a women’s mental condition can deteriorate, leaving her in a place that was far worse than when she first went to seek help. Not to mention that all services operate on a postcode lottery basis, if the women happen to live in the wrong county or the wrong borough then she may not be able to access help at all. It then comes as little surprise that many of these women begin to develop systems of deep psychological distress.

Of women who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, approximately 40 per cent have been victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. A further 9 per cent are further damaged by the system as they experience abuse while hospitalised. Within this process, past experiences become less and less important as current symptoms develop into the primary issue. Slowly the woman becomes defined as mentally ill as her previous self is forgotten, along with her story, and along with the power dynamics embedded in society that allowed her situation to occur, unnoticed and unquestioned.

If change is ever to occur and if our society is ever going to start questioning the discourses that help sustain male domination and abuse, it is of paramount importance that these women are heard.