Remember nursery rhymes? The innocuous, rhythmic, melodic comfort zone of mom’s voice (or dad’s, or grandma’s….), the really strange messages? Satire. The subtle device by which the activists of the era escaped detection until some bright guy of the reign figured it out and took offense…or a head. Many of the origins of the humble nursery rhyme reflect actual events in history, a seemingly innocent vehicle to spread subversive messages.
A rhyme associates words with similar sounds using a rhyming couplet verse. A rhyme is often short and easy to remember and this was critical when many people were unable to read or write. A rhyme was verbal communication from generation to generation; that’s why it was also a vital element when activists wanted to comment on the events of the day. Criticism or dissent would often have been punishable by death, so to couch messages in the pleasant cloak of childhood entertainment not only safely delivered a message, but was readily understood and remembered because of the use of rhyming.
Taking this premise to fitness, I think of the number 24. It reminds me of the nursery rhyme; “Sing a Song of Six-Pence.” Remember? “Four and twenty black birds baked in a pie…” And how does that relate to fitness? Well, possibly a subversive message in the middle of a workout, but I’m thinking more the role of rhyme and rhythm in movement…the message of music. Chanting some mantra, usually a rhyming mantra, helps maintain a cadence, sooths the mind, tends to hypnotize or transport to a meditative state, and therefore contributes to the tolerance of an endurance run. Whether that be in an actual marathon or one of those all important long training runs--- a rhythmic chant is beneficial.
The military has an interesting repertoire of chants, rhymes, and mantras that accompany the cadence of marchers. Given that the content of some of these borders on the ribald, the mind is probably engaged to a greater degree, but the message to the body is the same. “Step, move, swing, stride, one, two, three, four….And for whatever the scientific reason, I get a super charge of adrenaline whenever I hear the stirring chords from “Chariots of Fire.”
That’s why some people wear headphones while they run; the music provides an escape, a pace, and a distraction. That doesn’t work for me, because part of my run is enjoying the sounds of nature, plus I like to hear as well as feel the cadence of Asics on Asphalt and… it is neither safe nor social. I know it won’t matter if a cougar is at my heels, but I can be more aware of traffic hazards.
Negro slaves sang their history, their dreams, and their religion as they worked the cotton fields and tobacco plantations. It kept the dream alive, formed a connection with the past and with their colleagues, and gave a swing to the work load. The same can be said of chain gangs; might even have served to drown out the directives of the omnipresent prison guard.
I have a series of self-talk messages that I dredge up when the going gets lonely and the trail gets long…things like, “I can, I will, I love the hill.” Or “To the top, never stop. To the top, never stop.” And, “I feel wonderful, I feel wonderful, I feel wonderful!” Pretty crazy, but if it gets me through the run, and helps me finish a tough segment, and thus contributes to my overall health…what the heck…I can be a little crazy.
There is probably some sort of primal need for the beat; matches the throbbing heart? Reminds us of the ocean from whence we came? Provides a place for the mind so we don’t focus on time and energy expiring? Don’t know, that’s a job for the anthropologists.
Two marathons in which I have competed are the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Francisco, and the Country Music Marathon in Nashville. Both advertise the mile markers of music as entertainment---which it undeniably is----but it is also a piece of time in every mile where the body kicks into a certain step, cadence, rhythm…and the running is easier and faster for the duration of the wave length. (The same is not true of the lone Piper on a remote curve in the Big Horn race in Wyoming; it’s so incongruous to the rugged hillside, roaring river and rocky path; that the eeriness is worth at least a mile of musing!)