Pathos

According to Aristotle, the three main rhetorical appeals are logos (appeal to logic), ethos (appeal to credibility and/or morality), and pathos (appeal to emotion).  Intellectually (and in my writing, as you may have noticed), I tend to depend more heavily on logos and less heavily on pathos.  This is also true of my worldview as a whole.  I prefer that my knowledge, decisions, actions, etc. be founded on facts, data, and reasoning rather than impulse, emotion, or even, to an extent, experience or another person’s word.

This perspective carries into how I run–specifically, how I race.  I rely on logic: I know what type of training I have done, what splits I have run in practice, the habits, strengths, and weaknesses of my opponents, my own strengths and weaknesses, the nature of the course, the splits I need to run in the race to attain certain goals, and so on.  Ethos is secondary, and ties into logos.  I have a reasonable (though far from extensive) amount of experience running, especially compared to a good deal of the competition I face at my level of racing.  Thus, the knowledge that I have run a certain distance or executed a type of training or raced a certain course in the past provides confidence in the competition I face in the present.  Finally, pathos fills in the gaps unfilled by the previous two modes.  I yet to discover with which specific miles of a 5k logos and ethos are directly, consistently correlated, but I know for certain that the last mile (or at least the last half-mile) belongs totally and utterly to pathos.  If you’ve really raced, all that’s left to sustain you is adrenaline and emotion.  But how often can you run so “all out” that you truly are running solely on emotion?  Some people seem to have a bottomless well of passionate tenacity, but I can only muster this type of performance twice, maybe three times, in a season–otherwise I burn out (and believe me, I’ve been there, too).

Looking at it from a whole-season/training cycle perspective, we might be able to classify individual races (or types of races) into each appeal.  Logos-driven races might be the early ones: league meets, training races, or intrasquad competitions.  Ethos-based races might be minor invitationals or the arduous mid-season races that occur during the most difficult part of training.  The races grounded the most in pathos, then, would be post-season/championship phase meets, focal point races (e.g., the Boston Marathon, or, depending on your level, perhaps a Boston qualifying race), or other runs of special significance (i.e., ones that bear sentimental value).  Of course, like all things in the real world, these classifications are not precise.  Personally, I couldn’t imagine running a race without invoking logos.  All runners rely on ethos at all competitions to some extent or another, even if it’s merely “I’ve run this far before.  I can do it again, no matter how long it takes me.”  And pathos–well, none of us are named “Spock,” are we?  Especially in the big, important races, the three appeals tend to synthesize.  That, I believe, is why people tend to perform so well at these events: at Boston, or the Stanford Invitational, or Kona, or the State Championships, or the Olympic Trials, or Footlocker, or the regional Last Chance meet, the pressure to perform has the potential to draw on not only raw emotion but also every piece of an athlete’s composition–their natural abilities, their training, their knowledge of their training, their confidence, their character, their self.

Last Saturday was this race for me.  My last State Championship.  The last day I would be a cross country runner for my school.  The culmination of four years–four years of workouts, team melodrama, year-round training, four years of life.  I had thought that this would be a more stressful State for me than last year’s, at least in terms of logos stress.  But I got injured and missed a great deal of training, so in reality, there was a great deal less pressure on me to perform.  Granted, I had a very specific time goal, but somehow it seemed much more attainable and much less mentally challenging–perhaps because I’ve run far below that time in the past, and once you’ve been somewhere before, it’s far easier to get back.  The amount of pathos-related stress, however, surprised me.  I’ve always considered myself to be a very logical person.  I like numbers; I like empirical data; I don’t like “touchy-feely” stuff–it has about the appeal of pond-slime, both literally and metaphorically.  (A psychoanalyst would probably tell me that I’m too bottled up or afraid of vulnerability or something like that.  But whatever.)  The previous few days, in practice and especially in the final team meeting, I felt emotion building as though inside a pressure cooker.  I couldn’t acknowledge it in front of the team, though: it’s not that I didn’t trust them, but I did have to be strong.  If I, the captain, the steady, reliable, experienced member broke down, it could have paralyzed the team.

The notion had crossed my mind a few times before that I might struggle with this issue of overwhelming emotion at State.  Emotion at the end of a race can be a good thing, but when you’re not used to it, it can be overpowering.  One of my strengths is my ability to separate logic and emotion, and I swore to myself that I would maintain this separation through the State meet.  And since I lacked the training I would have hoped for due to my injury, this meet was all about ethos.  My coaches told me that there was no one on the team that they would trust more to run a responsible third position than myself–I couldn’t go out to fast, but I mustn’t go out to slowly.  When they went through each team member and gave them a word to focus on as a confidence-builder, mine was “experience.”  But that sneaky old pathos was still there.  While I was the oldest, most experienced runner, by the same virtue, I was also the one with the greatest emotional investment in the race.  It was like a canister of jet fuel: a key to a successful lift-off or a time-bomb waiting to explode–binary, no “small campfire” option in between rocket launch and inferno.

I ran a good race.  I matched, perhaps even exceeded, my coaches’ expectations.  The team faltered quite a bit as a whole, but I ran what we needed me to run.  It was far from perfect–I would have liked to run the first mile faster, I was nowhere near what I ran last year at the same meet (for obvious reasons), and two passed me in the kick to the finish (the first thing I said to my coach after the race was “I still have no foot speed!”)  But I was content and at peace.  And, I didn’t have a breakdown; after I had recovered enough to behave rationally, while I was congratulating some of my opponents (whom I consider friends) and trying to help my teammates, some of whom were not feeling well, I thought to myself, “That wasn’t nearly as emotional as I thought it would be.  Just enough to power me through that last mile.  Thank you, God.”

And then I saw my coach standing on the edge of the recovery area.  As I walked over, I pulled my sunglasses back down: I might be emotional, but no one was going to see.  It wasn’t as though the floodgates of Noah were re-released near the first hole of a golf course located in the remote hills of Washington state, but there was an outpouring of emotion greater than I’ve experienced in quite a while, from both parties involved.  It was a release: of four years of effort, of the struggles and uncertainties of this year, of the confirmation that I could indeed fulfill the faith others had in my ability to perform, of my failures at State track, of the mutual unspoken knowledge of the team’s sub-par yet strangely contenting (at least for me) performance, of our shared respect and care for each other, the team, and the sport, of the relationship we’ve built over three years.  It was public–there were hundreds of other people, many of whom I knew–yet so deeply personal.  And it was wonderful.

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Feel free to insult each other, forget your manners, create straw men, ignore empirical data, and commit as many other fallacies as you can, all from the cozy, anonymous protection of your keyboard.

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