What I think about running when I’m reading books about what people think about running

I like reading, I’m no great literary mind but I like a good story. I also really like reading about things that I enjoy doing, so recently I’ve been working my way through a few books about runners, running and the like. To start off with I read ‘Born to Run’ which has in part been credited for helping to fuel the barefoot/minimal running argument/craze/fad. I’d been putting off reading it for ages because, well, everyone else was reading it and I’m a contrary twat sometimes. But I bought it for my brother for his birthday and he loved it so I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s a really passionately-written and fascinating book, I suspect you probably have to have an interest in running to enjoy it and there are certain parts of your brain you need to switch off to go with how vociferous the author is about certain things. But on the whole, a good read.

It made me think a bit more about running, and why I run. A few friends have started running recently and it’s interesting to observe how other people approach it, and what they get out of it. Warning, what follows is very introspective and probably quite boring, but I enjoyed writing it.

The first time I went for a ‘proper’ run was with my dad, I was about 9 or 10 and really wanted to go with my dad when he went for one of his ‘jogs’. It was probably only about 2 or 3 miles, from the village where we lived to the nearest town and back, but I remember it really vividly. It was dark, it was misty, I was wearing a gilet (it was the 90s, shut up) and it made my lungs burn a bit (the fun of running in the cold). I remember being quite proud when we got back to the house.

I’m not really sure at what point I went from someone who went for the odd jog to considering myself ‘a runner’ – maybe while I was at uni as a reaction to the hugely unhealthy lifestyle that comes with being a student?

I didn’t really start training properly and regularly until I was training for my first marathon in 2010, I think that was the point when I really ‘got’ running. Before then it had always seemed a bit difficult and something to endure rather than to enjoy. The all-encompassing nature of marathon training made me confront the more meditative aspects of forcing yourself to go for a 2 or 3+ hour-long run. I don’t think at any point up until then I had ever given myself that long alone with my thoughts, certainly not consciously. I quite liked that realisation, from then it felt like I was getting more from running than just the physical health stuff. I realise that is not the most well-articulated epiphany but I think it goes a long way to explain why I have spent more and more time running over the last few years, not only does it feel like you are actually accomplishing something (even if that is as banal as travelling an arbitrary distance that also, normally, means you end up where you started) but it also gives me some time, most days, to sort out my thoughts and work out what I think about things – sort of ‘brain admin’ for want of a better description.

I also love the improvement/achievement aspect of it all, follow a training plan and you will improve. And that’s great. You get out what you put in, there are no shortcuts, you can’t just decide to run faster, or further, you need to work at it, in the simplest possible terms I am completely in love with the honesty of running.

I don’t really like training with anyone, I love racing with lots of people I know for all of the pre and post race stuff but training is my thing, time spent, on my own, where my opponent is myself – this is probably deeply anti-social and misanthropic.

I have an ongoing argument with myself about listening to music when I run. On the one hand it’s quite nice to stick on some music and detach yourself from the entire experience a bit but on the other hand that feels a bit like cheating, and like you’re trying to trick yourself into forgetting that you’re actually running. At the moment I am in a ‘no music’ phase, but sometimes training just gets really difficult and any distraction is welcomed.

Running is great, I love it, I probably spend more time running than I do on most other things other than work and sleep.

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