I’m a sucker for books about running. I’ve read loads of ’em. Some great, others err…not so.
I’ve just finished Richard Askwith’s ‘Running free: a runner’s journey back to nature’. It’s definitely in the great pile, and made me think about why I run. And more importantly, how I run.
What’s it all about then?
It’s a call to runners to get back to basics. Or, as he puts it: ‘a manifesto for a different kind of running: a de-commercialised, lo-tech kind of running, accessible to all.’
So ditch the headphones, fancy watch and heart monitor. All you need is a pair of trainers, some kind of sporting attire – he talks about barefoot running, but not nude running – and a resolution to run in the moment.
My first reaction was: ‘Yeah fine, that’s how I run anyway’. After all, I don’t use headphones, I rarely shell out on new kit – I can’t afford half of it anyway – and my trail runs keep me down with mother nature.
But hang on a sec, what about my expensive running watch? And my unhealthy obsession with weekly miles, pace and heart rate? Hmmm…I had work to do.
An experiment in free running
I live in Cardiff and didn’t fancy immersing myself in inner-city car fumes and honking horns. So I ditched the watch, chucked some supplies in my rucksack, and headed to the hills (the South Wales Valleys) for my first official free run. Here’s how I got on:
- Not having my watch was liberating. With no targets or goals for the run, I felt like I’d given myself permission to just run. I quickly settled into an easy pace and dare I say it, ran with a smile on my face. A rare sight.
- With no watch, I also paid more attention to things around me: sights, sounds, smells and how it felt to be in the middle of it all. Focussing on sound was really cool. Birds chirping, trees swaying, turbines whirring, and my feet squelching along the muddy trails.
- When I stopped for snacks, perched on a small hilltop, I took 5 minutes and just sat there. Wow. Probably the closest I’ve come to enlightenment since I bought a buddha statue for my living room.
- I stopped to have a chat with a mountain biker. Normally, I’d have waved as we passed each other, conscious of my all-important minutes/mile pace. But I fancied a rest. He chatted to me about wildlife, and all the mink, otters and kingfishers he’d seen in the area. I didn’t get to see any myself, but just listening to him talk so passionately about them made my day.
After reading Running Free, I wanted to give it a go. And I’m glad I did. Instead of running with gritted teeth, focussing on pace or mileage, I relaxed and got a bit more immersed in everything around me. And it came with a bonus: I didn’t think about work once.
I’m not ditching the watch just yet. But I’m gonna try a bit more of this during my inner-city, early morning jaunts around Cardiff.