Listen, runners! Listen to this tale of damnation and ruin told by one of your brothers in addiction! Listen to his story and repent!
"I suffered intense pain in my foot whenever I started my daily run, but at five miles or so into it, I would develop a sense of invincibility. I was truly indestructible in that transcendent state and the pain would leave me...."
Invincible? Indestructible? Not likely. This man is a mere mortal, a poor runner. Listen and weep!
"Even though I could work through the pain during my runs, afterward the pain returned—more and more excruciating each day. Soon, I had to walk downstairs backwards in the morning. I knew something was wrong, but I just could not give up my running. It felt too good, it meant too much, I had to have it...."
Hear the pitiful words of this miserable runner, snared in the trap of his habit. He is hooked. He is hopeless. He is beyond help!
"Finally one morning I awoke and I was unable even to go downstairs backwards. I visited an orthopedic surgeon who asked me, 'Where did you put your Achilles tendon?' It was necessary for me to undergo surgery to reconstruct the damaged foot. The surgery was quite successful, but I can no longer run. And I will always walk with a limp...."
Yes, he broke his habit, he escaped his addiction. But at what a terrible price! O, repent, ye panting runners, repent before you, too, become addicts, doomed to a life of limping and lamentation!
So far, there are among us no running-and-brimstone evangelists like the preacher suggested above. But the horrifying tale told by the runner is absolutely true. It happened to a real man, a former college professor in the Midwest who wishes to remain anonymous. It is no exaggeration and it is pretty frightening—particularly because it is an example, though an extreme one, of a phenomenon that has surfaced recently among physical-fitness devotees. Some experts choose a gentle, bland term to describe it; they call it "exercise dependence." But among those who like their socio-psychological diagnoses unfuzzed by subtlety, the preferred words are chilling: exercise addiction.
Experts agree that any kind of strenuous physical exertion—swimming, calisthenics, cycling, running—can produce a powerful dependency that approaches addiction. According to New York's Dr. James Nicholas, for many years one of the country's leading sports physicians, "When you are through exercising, you feel a sense of accomplishment, emotional pleasure. Also, your pulse rate is better, your oxygen transport system is more efficient. Thus, you are stimulated both physically and psychologically, and eventually you can develop a compulsory need to repeat this pleasing experience again and again. I prefer the term 'dependency' to 'addiction,' but, yes, there is an addictive tendency to strenuous exercise because of the good feeling it generates."
There is a growing body of academic and medical literature that addresses the subject of exercise addiction. Yet nearly all of the work in the field has so far been directed not to exercise in general but to runners and running. This is undoubtedly because of the amazing number of Americans who have been seized (or at least touched) by the running habit—30 million is the latest guess. It is difficult to think of another 20th century sports phenomenon that has cut so widely and deeply into American life. Of course, this makes running an irresistible subject for serious sociologcal, psychological and psychiatric research. Beyond that, the fact is that a great many scholars and doctors choose running as the subject of their research because they happen to be mildly hooked runners themselves.
In the week before last October's New York Marathon, seminars on running addiction were held at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, and the auditorium was filled with sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and other academics, most of whom were also entered in the big race. At one point, a man in the audience asked in mock seriousness exactly where a researcher might go to find a bunch of "Skid Row running addicts" for the purpose of scholarly research, and someone in the back of the room cracked, "Look no farther, we're all right here."
Now, if you ask an ordinary runner about the matter of addiction, you will generally get a reply that includes skepticism, derision or a blank look. Take, for example, Tommy Leonard, the ruddy-faced bartender at Boston's Eliot Lounge, which lies near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and is probably the nation's No. 1 bar for runners. Asked if he personally knew any running addicts, Leonard raised his eyebrows quizzically and said, "Addicts? I don't really know that any come in here. Maybe you can't tell them from regular runners. The ones I don't like are 'Gucci runners.' You know, the guys who buy $200 running suits and shoes and then think they're runners. I try not to serve them." Then there's Frank Shorter, a runner of eminently non-Gucci credentials, who was recently asked to discuss the subject of his addicted brethren. After a pause of perhaps two heartbeats, Shorter replied with nicely modulated scorn, "I was just wondering what upwardly mobile osteopath came up with that."
Well, there certainly is a crowd of upwardly mobile opportunists in all professions, eager to peddle any concept, product or philosophy that might lead to cashing in on the running boom. And perhaps the term "addiction" is a bit too pejorative for the problem it defines. But the term is in constant use among a growing corps of responsible researchers, and thus, it will remain in constant use in this article, too.
A good definition of the condition is contained in a paper entitled Running Addiction: A New Syndrome, by Dr. Michael Sacks, an associate professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College and a seven-marathon man himself. "The running addict is characterized by a compulsive need to run at least once and sometimes twice a day...," writes Sacks. "If, for some reason, he is prevented from running he becomes irritable, restless, sleepless and preoccupied with guilty thoughts that his body will de-condition or degenerate in some way. He is logically able to recognize the irrationality of these feelings and thoughts, but they are inescapable and can only be relieved by running." Sacks points out that the addict often lets his running preempt responsibilities toward work and family, frequently falls into daydreams about running and seeks from every run a euphoric sensation known widely as "the runner's high." Furthermore, says Sacks, "The addicted runner will continue running despite injuries and the risk of severely harming himself in search for this high...."
The first to mention addiction and running in the same breath was a physician named William Glasser, who published a book called Positive Addiction in 1976. His thesis was that besides the "bad" addictions to alcohol, gambling, drugs, etc., there are also "good" addictions to things like running, swimming and meditation. Such addictions, wrote Glasser, actually "increase your mental strength," while a bad addiction tends to "sap the strength from every part of your life except in the area of the addiction" itself. Glasser believed that "negative addicts have long since given up on finding love and worth" while the positive addict "enjoys his addiction [even though] it does not dominate his life."
This smacks a trifle of the simplistic, all-purpose self help of a Norman Vincent Peale. Indeed, Glasser's writing on running as a positive addiction has been put to use by the reigning high priests of running, for example, Jim Fixx, to help support their claims that the activity is a cure-all. In The Complete Book of Running, Fixx reported eagerly that Glasser had called running not only the "surest route to positive addiction" but also that it was "an almost infallible way to shake yourself loose from habits that make life more difficult than you want it to be," and "a powerful enemy of bad habits." The fact that running might be an equally powerful friend of bad habits has been largely ignored by the popular running proselytizers. Paul Joseph, a Tufts University sociologist, and James M. Robbins, a University of Wisconsin psychiatry professor, pointed out in a recent paper that in the best-selling literature on the subject "the social and psychological hazards of running are either nonexistent or, with few exceptions, absent." In Fixx's entire 314-page book they found only one reference to negative "interpersonal and vocational consequences of running"—and that was in a footnote.
One of the first academicians to come up with a popularly disseminated piece of serious antirunning material was William P. Morgan, a sports psychologist at the University of Wisconsin and a four-mile-a-day runner. Morgan's article, "The Mind of the Marathoner," appeared in the April 1978 issue of Psychology Today. In it, he ventured a relatively dark thesis about running. "Like most wonder drugs," he wrote, "there is the potential for abuse." He described the high that occurs during a run and is then followed by "a state of total relaxation and quiescence that may last for hours," but he also pointed out that it was rare for anyone running less than 10 miles a day to consistently experience this "altered state of consciousness." Furthermore, Morgan warned, "As with most drugs, the running-induced high can only be maintained by increasing dosage—which means more miles, higher intensity or two-and three-a-day runs. And this is precisely what occurs in the hard-core addict."
Morgan painted a fairly hellish picture of such a driven creature: "I define the exercise addict as a person who cannot exist without exercise, whatever the cost. Initially the addict may withdraw from friends, spouse, children and other loved ones. Then his performance at work begins to suffer. One might argue that drinking on company time is a negative addiction, whereas running on company time represents a positive addiction. In either case, it is the company that is shortchanged."
Besides ignoring family and job, according to Morgan, the advanced addict would eventually disregard his body, too, driving himself to run despite pain and the threat of permanent disability. He warned that any physician treating an addicted runner for an injury should be ready to prescribe "a methadone-like substitute," such as bicycling, or the patient is likely to continue running until he ends up on the operating table—just like the poor soul who was quoted at the beginning of this article and who originally told his tale to Morgan.
The damage runners can do to themselves is frightening to contemplate. Stanton Peele, a social psychologist on the faculty of Columbia University Teachers College and a therapist in Teaneck, N.J., published a book called Love and Addiction in 1975 and has just completed a broader work on all types of addiction, entitled How Much Is Too Much. A 10-mile-a-week runner himself, Peele says, "Most of the runners I know have run with injuries at one time or another. I also know many people who have seriously damaged themselves from running. Overall, I'd say that running can be more dangerous to physical well-being than heroin. Assuming that the heroin user has sterilized needles and pure drugs and is on a good diet, I'd say that heroin would do a lot less physical damage to a drug addict than running does to a running addict."
Whatever the difference in physical toll, it is true that the runner is hooked on his exercise for much the same reason a junkie craves his dope: both get a sense of well-being that cannot be duplicated by any other experience. Surprisingly, the majority of running addicts find that their good feelings spring from psychological rather than physical satisfactions. When two Florida State University researchers, Michael Sachs and David Pargman, interviewed 540 runners, they discovered that when hard-core participants were asked why they ran so much, those runners generally tended to give reasons "in the psychological category." Most of them found that running helped cut down on anxiety, depression and guilt. One runner said simply, "It keeps me sane." Another said, "When I don't run, I have an instant increase in anxiety levels...I'm jumpy and I can't concentrate." And another ran simply to keep himself from feeling guilty—about not running: "It's just easier for me to do the damned run than to cope with the un-happiness and guilt that well up in me if I don't." And still another reached a kind of gossamer trance when he ran. "My mind feels as if it is floating and I feel almost a lack of consciousness," he said.
The sense of achieving relief from emotional upset or personal problems through running probably derives as much from sheer distraction—shifting of attention from worries to watching the road ahead—as from anything else. Yet there is also the relative tranquillity, the empty-mindedness of running, that lends a quality of meditation to the exercise. As Morgan says, "It is not at all coincidental that the running boom grew along with some very substantial meditative movements in the late 1960s. They are by no means mutually exclusive. Running can give you that 'quiet place,' the sense of occupying 'my own space' that is supposed to happen when you practice transcendental meditation. When a runner is through running, his anxiety levels tend to drop for from two to five hours. It is like a nonchemical high, and it probably involves meditative techniques for many people."
Whatever the form of pleasure or relief, the question runners undoubtedly want answered is: What makes running addictive? There is no simple answer, just as there is no simple answer to what makes anything addictive. Peele says flatly, "The definition of addiction is currently in a very confused state. This is because the drug that is prototypically considered addictive—heroin—actually produces a whole range of different reactions." Peele explains that some people who take heroin regularly experience nothing that is remotely close to addiction. Specifically, he is referring to the thousands of Vietnam veterans who developed strong drug habits while in Southeast Asia—but when they returned home, "over 90% gave up the drug with only mild or sometimes nonexistent reactions."
The classic way of defining the intensity of an addiction is by measuring the withdrawal symptoms one suffers when deprived of the addictive experience. Sachs and Pargman found in their survey that addicted runners' withdrawal signs included "tension, guilt, anxiety, nervousness, irritability, feelings of bloatedness and muscle twitching." But withdrawal from running can be far more frightening than that. Morgan received a lumber of letters from troubled runners after his articles on negative addiction appeared. One came from a medical school student in Maryland who told of suffering a knee injury that finally forced him to stop running. He then underwent withdrawal symptoms so nightmarish hat he seriously considered committing suicide. A young woman, a veteran of three marathons, wrote Morgan that she vas so hooked on running that if she did only one run a day or ran anything less than five miles, she would punish herself with eating binges so destructive that hey invariably made her sick.
Such withdrawal symptoms must reflect a powerful addiction—right? Not necessarily. Cornell's Sacks says, "There is a distinction to be made between addiction and compulsion. A compulsion is a meaningless act, which, if you fail to do it, makes you feel anxiety. This would include things like repeated hand wasting or checking the gas on the stove several times before you leave home. People build these things into their lives and hey don't consider them irrational. Such impulsions become a problem only when you are prevented from doing hem. That may lead to what seem to be withdrawal symptoms. But instead of being an addiction in themselves, these compulsions are really only a sign of some deeper anxiety or neurosis that will surface when the compulsion can no longer be carried out."
Still, there are ways to define addiction that seem to fit running perfectly. In his forthcoming book, Peele lists five criteria that he says must be present in "an addictive experience." They are: 1) the experience causes one to obliterate consciousness of stress, anxiety or depression; 2) it reduces one's ability to perform other activities or to find true gratification from other areas of life; 3) the experience artificially buoys one's self-esteem; 4) the experience is not intrinsically pleasurable, but is merely a vehicle of escape from troubles; 5) the experience is predictable.
"There is nothing to limit this list to drugs," Peele says. "Television, for example, can easily fulfill these criteria for addiction."
And running? Yes, indeed. "For some, running is the best possible analgesic," says Peele. "It inures them to daily concerns and problems. It is used to obliterate consciousness." As for criterion No. 2, he says, "Running can interfere with other activities and with relations with other people—especially non-runners. Eventually, an addict will rely on it so much that it becomes the only activity in which he can find any emotional gratification."
Criterion No. 3 is "more problematical," when related to runners as opposed to narcotics addicts or alcoholics. Nevertheless, Peele finds that runners who insist on running despite pain, injury or personal crisis also have such a low opinion of themselves that they believe a single day without running can cause an instant return to obesity, poor physical condition or such habits as smoking and drinking. Such a person's self-esteem ultimately falls so low that it "can only be propped up by daily running excursions."
Criterion No. 4, failure to find pleasure in the experience, is based on the theory that, for an addict, running is necessary to block out all other sensations—whether of pain or joy.
As for the element of predictability, criterion No. 5, Peele says, "This is the keynote of addiction. Addicted runners are searching for an identical experience on each run, something that they will sacrifice anything to have. When this totally predictable experience is withdrawn, even for a short time, their lives are horribly disrupted. They have lost their life-organizing principle, so to speak, the one thing capable of producing a feeling of well-being."
The potential for becoming a running junkie is absolutely universal—anyone can get hooked and it can happen with astonishing swiftness. "The possibility of attaining a seemingly immense accomplishment—such as running a marathon or long distances after only a brief preparatory period—may be one of the factors that contributes to running's addictive potential," says Sacks. "Unlike other sports, such as golf or tennis, the runner can improve very quickly without spending long periods of time acquiring new motor coordination. He simply runs—which involves only the process of remembering what he did as a child."
Marvin Gewirtz, a New York psychologist and a four-marathon man, agrees with the easy-come satisfactions available in running. Gewirtz says, "Running can give you a feeling of control over your life, although, in fact, some important parts of it may not be under control at all. But it is so easy to do, so quick to return satisfaction, that running can seem to be a solution to everything. And that is when people go too far in their dependence on it."
Quick and easy though it may be for a weekend jogger to turn into a full-fledged road junkie, the fact is that the tendency to depend on running to deal with stress seems to be directly related to distance: the more miles a runner covers each day, the more likely he is to be using running as a crutch to avoid other problems. In a carefully controlled survey taken of 345 Boston-area runners, Joseph and Robbins developed a set of "quadrants" for runner types. The least committed in the group were labeled Occasional Runners, and they averaged 12.3 miles per week, almost never entered races and made up by far the largest segment—47.2%—of the sample. The Hobby or Pure Runners averaged 29.3 miles per week and made up about 18.3%. The Part-Time Runners (47.8 miles per week) made up 26.7%. The most committed—and also most troubled—were the Full-Time Runners, who ran at least 75 miles per week. Joseph and Robbins described this last type thusly: "In comparison with the other groups, they run a comparatively larger portion of their time. They race often, most of their friends are runners, and they are immersed in the running subculture to the extent that running literature occupies their attention at least weekly."
To measure a runner's degree of addiction, Joseph and Robbins created something they called "the hooked factor" and calculated it for all 345 of their subjects. It involved a computerized correlation of 11 questions dealing with symptoms suffered when a subject missed his running workouts. Symptoms included depression, frustration, insomnia and constipation. The results demonstrated that the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms was directly related to the amount of time a subject spent running each week and the distance he ran. "The more hooked they were, the more committed they were to long, frequent runs," says Joseph. "There also seemed to be a definite kind of barrier at 70 miles a week where the intensity of the addiction and the problems caused by running made an almost quantum jump."
For example, among Full-Time Runners, no less than 24% had changed their jobs because of running, while only 3% of the others had done so. Full-Time Runners tended to daydream of running while at work, more of them had had conflicts at home over running, more tended to identify themselves as runners instead of through their work and more found their "total needs" were met by running. Perhaps the most telling symptom came in the Full-Time Runners' answer to the question: "Have running conflicts with a former spouse or partner ever been serious enough to cause a major reappraisal of your relationships?" A full 42% said "yes" while only 7% of the Part-Timers and barely 1% of the Occasional Runners admitted to such conflicts. So the farther they ran, the more likely their lives were to suffer.
Joseph and Robbins and all other researchers in this area are adamant on one point: none of their findings or their theories relate to active, competitive athletes. They apply only to recreational runners. "Runners like Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter may run 130 miles a week or more," says Joseph, "but they are not what anyone would call addicted. They are professionals in their way and none of our discussions about addiction relate to them—in any way at all."
Indeed, Shorter is genuinely offended by the idea of this compulsive, all-consuming running. "You are dealing with a running bum mentality when you find people who don't see that there is something besides running in life," he says. "If you spend your life being that single-minded, you lose the ability to be creative, you lose all flexibility, all options. I'm not monomaniacal about running all the time. Sure, I am while I'm doing it, but once it's over, I'm not a runner anymore. There's a certain compulsion in me to run or I wouldn't do it. But people who do running and nothing else are weirdos."
Not surprisingly, the approach to running of world-class performers of Shortens caliber is totally different from that of the rest of us, and it is their approach that keeps most of them relatively immune to the danger of addiction. Part of Morgan's research for his Psychology Today article on marathoners' minds was based on a study of 20 world-class runners at the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. One major difference between elite and non-elite runners, Morgan found, involved the type and amount of mind-bending that each group went through in attempting to manage the agonies of a marathon. Morgan discovered that non-elite runners tended to apply "a kind of self-hypnosis called dissociation" to obliterate the anticipated pain during a race. One such runner did complicated math calculations in his head. Another relived his entire educational career from the first grade through Ph.D., recalling favorite teachers and classes. Another fell into a trance by repeating a mantra over and over. Another imagined she was stepping on the faces of people she disliked over the entire 26 miles. And another, at the 15-mile mark, began an intricate inch-by-inch design and construction of a house—"Once the blueprints are completed, I dig a footing with a pick and shovel, pour the concrete, lay the blocks...nail each shingle...wire it, plumb it, plaster the walls, furnish it, landscape the yard...." Thus the amateurs tried to mask the realities of marathon agony.
The elite did just the opposite. They fought to maintain a constant and precise connection with reality, however much it hurt. "The best marathoners attempt to associate with the pain and discomfort," Morgan wrote. "They constantly monitor bodily signals of respiration, temperature, heaviness in the calves and thighs, abdominal sensations and the like. Instead of diverting the mind with mantras or mathematics, they keep reminding themselves to 'stay loose' or 'relax and not tie up.' " And what of the terrors of "the wall"? It seems that competitors of world-class caliber simply don't recognize its existence. "There is no wall for me," a top runner told Morgan. "I think a lot of guys are so concerned about the wall that they psych themselves out."
It is this tendency to "psych themselves out," to reach for some transcendent perception while running, that seems to hook unwary runners and turn them into addicts. Peele says, "The need to obliterate consciousness—which is exactly what Morgan is talking about with the term 'dissociation' among non-elite runners—is an essential symptom for any form of addiction."
Ah, but therein lies the joy of running for many, doesn't it?—the idea that running allows one to become another being, to lift the mind out of its daily slough, to rise out of a troubled and banal life and enjoy another kind of existence. This is the high that the addicted runner is ultimately hooked by, though it may well be lovely, harmless, ephemeral, too. One of the more common states of gentle transcendence for runners is the sense of returning to a childlike state. George Sheehan writes in Being & Running: "Like most distance runners, I am still a child. And never more so than when I run. Like most children, I think I control my life. I believe myself to be independent. Like most children, I live in the best of all possible worlds, a world made for running and racing where nothing but good can happen."
There are, of course, the other, more destructive highs connected with running, not the least of which are intense feelings of superiority over all other humans and delusions of omnipotence. Usually these feelings are directed toward other people, particularly the moral slugs and physical laggards who never run. But occasionally the sensation of superiority encompasses inanimate objects. Morgan wrote in The Runner about a weird example of "illusory omnipotence" related by a runner he knows: "One day last spring I was having an exceptionally good run. I was running about 10 miles a day at the time and on this particular day I had decided to extend my workout. I was around the 14-mile point, and I was preparing to cross a one-lane bridge when, all of a sudden, a large cement mixer turned the corner and began to cross the bridge. I never thought for a second about stopping and letting the truck pass. I simply continued and said to myself, 'Come on, you son of a bitch, I'll split you right down the middle, there'll be concrete all over the road!' The driver slammed on the brakes and swerved to the side as I sailed by. That was really scary afterward, but at the time it felt really good!"
Somewhat along this same line is the insufferable quality of relentless religiosity that infects many runners. "There has gotten to be a cultic dimension to running, complete with infernal gurus like Sheehan," says Morgan. "I think the exercise evangelists and the running messiahs have gotten to a point where they could ruin a good thing. They treat running as if it were a panacea. They believe their sex drive is enhanced, their sleep is dreamless, their blood pressure is good—as long as they run. They are like religious fanatics."
The concept of running-as-religion has been advanced considerably farther—though perhaps more than a little facetiously—by Victor Altshul, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School, who, in a report to the American Medical Joggers Association, compared the miracle of Easter to the Boston Marathon: "The Christian has his Holy Week. He lives with Jesus through the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through a crescendo of dramatic events climaxed by a three-hour crucifixion beginning at noon and ending at three in the afternoon, through the agony, death and burial and followed by the resurrection and mystical appearance before the disciples. Similarly, the dedicated Boston marathoner at precisely the same time of year—April, symbolizing the rebirth of nature—begins his preparations a week in advance of the race with his triumphal depletion run. This is followed by an ordered sequence of ritualistic dietary practices culminating in a solemn Last Supper of spaghetti and beer the night before his moment of truth. The following day, precisely at noon, he begins his own passion, which, if he is at all typical, ends in his 'death' around 3 p.m. Sometimes he is said to 'die' on the hills—Calvary—sometimes as he staggers across the finish line, thence to be buried in the bowels of the Prudential Building where he is placed twitching on a cot and swaddled in white linens. Later he emerges reborn, rejuvenated and joyous, to utter cryptic and incomprehensible things to his friends, believers and heathens alike."
This would seem to be the ultimate runner's high—beginning a race as a mere mortal and ending it a resurrected messiah. Of course, such dreams are the stuff of hallucinogenic drugs. There is a theory, in fact, that certain runner's highs could be the result of intrabody chemistry. Substances in the brain called endorphins are, in some ways, similar to morphine. They are part of the brain's neurotransmitter system, and apparently cause, among other things, a deadening of pain. There is also a theory that acupuncture techniques may increase the release of endorphins, helping to regulate pain and, in some cases, introducing a sense of euphoria. One other theory, unproved and practically untested at this point, holds that extreme exercise releases endorphins, causing a chemical high. Dr. Thaddeus Kostrubala, a San Diego psychiatrist who has treated patients through running with them, says that he has occasionally noted that people on antidepressant drugs act as if they have had an overdose when they are running. It is as if the combination of the drug and the naturally produced endorphins add up to a double dose of the drug. But for now most doctors and academics studying running addiction discount the possibility of a mysterious body chemistry providing an addictive catalyst for runners.
It is an odd and ironical turn that something as intrinsically good for most of us should become so bad for some. But it is true; there is an obsession to it, a derangement that can make running a burden, a pain and a danger. And instead of being a thing of light and inspiration, the runner is driven by fear and self-loathing. "Just as the alcoholic fears that just one drink will obliterate restraint and open the floodgates of ceaseless drinking," says Altshul, "so the joylessly compulsive runner fears that one day without a run will feel so good that he will never feel like getting out of his bed—much less his car—again."
There is a bit of this joyless addict in every runner. But there is also a bit of something else, for another kind of runner's high always goes with the franchise. "What runner has not arisen before a winter's dawn," Altshul has written, "preparing perhaps for a 20-miler, and while trying to shake the numbing lethargy out of his brain and bones, felt distaste, apprehension and dread sit like a cold lumpy porridge in his gut?...[Yet] he drags himself sluggishly through his miserable run, summons what seem to him boundless quantities of courage to stand up to pain and adversity and feeling every inch the romantic hero that he has always wished he was. And in this relentlessly unheroic contemporary age, what fantasy could be more therapeutic than this?"
Ah, yes, what indeed.