Why did I start running? Well I suppose the handful of attempts at various Couch to 5km programmes in my late teens and twenties were about getting fitter but my heart was never really in it. Then there was the 2013 half marathon in memory of Rachel, well my heart wasn’t really in the running bit then either. Then I started again because it was a way to try and shift some weight and then there was Dopey and London and and and… At some point though my reason for running became running. I run to get out, to enjoy being outside, to explore, to see places, to notice nature, to be healthier. But recently that’s not where my focus has been. It’s been on performance. It’s been on distance, on pace and on measuring ‘better’ by how far I could go and how fast. Sometimes that’s fine I suppose because sometimes running regularly means I am able to go faster and further but mostly it’s not helpful for me to measure ‘better’ by distance and pace. Measuring better or even good in that way just makes me miserable.
I was thinking about all this as I was plodding my way through 4.4 miles using run/walk intervals this early lunchtime. After a few weeks of feeling the pressure of running and of trying to distance myself from the idiocy of about 80% of what I, along with most academics, do at work, I could feel myself slipping towards that place where the sofa becomes the safe space and leaving it gets harder and harder. I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t good at anything and that everything I was doing wasn’t good enough. But of course that’s not true and when I stop to think rather than just feel, I know this. So after a morning of feeling like I couldn’t really get out of bed, postponing our planned adventure to Haworth for a run and eventually going out for breakfast instead I somehow made it out the door for a run. I agreed to running intervals and taking the pressure off. I didn’t actually want to go at all but I’d run out or energy to argue. 2 minutes running, 30 seconds walking – that seemed doable.
There were bits of the run where I managed to just enjoy being out and being able to move, to feel the wind in my face and be aware of the sweat tingling down the middle of my back. There were moments when seeing the geese grumbling irritably at the swans and their young made me smile and when I remembered to look out for the kingfisher (no luck today). There were stretches where I was completely aware of my body doing what it can to move as effectively as it can, I was aware of my breathing, of my feet striking the towpath lightly and moving off again, my arms moving in harmony with my legs that even at 3.5 miles weren’t feeling the slightest bit tired yet. Running can be the easiest and the hardest thing to do all at the same time. I couldn’t quite get my head out of better being distance and pace because I was pleased to have gone further than the last run and a little annoyed that it was quite slow but also happy it was under 13 minute mile pace. But if we take a healthier, happier definitions of what a good run might be then this was on the right track. It was a good run because I wasn’t miserable, because I enjoyed being out, because I looked around and saw the autumn colours and the ducks and the dogs going about their business.
So I am trying to re-set my mind – to stop thinking about ‘good’ and ‘better’ using traditional or usual measures of progress. And I don’t mean just for running. It’s all about trying to work out what’s important and hanging on to that. How fast I can go is really irrelevant. How far I can go is a little more relevant but actually not much – I can always walk and if how fast doesn’t matter then the how far question is far far less important. So today’s run was the start of refocusing on the things that matter.