Races 2

It was a fantastic day in Manchester on Sunday for the Great Manchester Run. I was accompanied by various members of my family, including my mother who is almost 70 and who was running the 10k for the second time. Last year my Mum and I ran together, but this year we ran separately. The weather was at a good temperature for running and just as our wave of the race began a light rain started, which is great for preventing over-heating. Well over 40,000 people were taking part, so it was quite busy on the course and I became a bit held up just after the start. At the 5 km point I was on track at just a few seconds over 30 minutes. However, I needed a toilet break at around the 7km, which threw me off my pace. In the end I finished at 1:03:59 on the chip, but 1:02:38 on my Garmin (that is, minus the break for relief!). It was a PB on either measure, but I was slightly disappointed not to have been under the hour. I am not a fast runner, being both tall and heavy, but it was good enough for me. I have raised over £300 for Mind, the mental health charity here in the UK.

I have already signed up for a new half-marathon on the same event day as the GMR next year. All results are added to the races page as they come in.

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Every day running: Part 2 – logistical problems

 

It is starting to get dark outside. It is still summer, but the days are getting shorter. The drive from Gothenburg to Ramsjö in Småland took longer than expected. But finally, we are driving up the small hill and see the house of our relatives.  I run out of the car and with my bag with my shorts and trainers in my hands; I hurry up to the second floor to get changed. It is not too late yet; I will make it. Way past eleven o’clock in the evening I start  my daily run and feel relief that I’m still keeping my running streak. It is getting darker and therefore more difficult to see the road in front of me; you know, there are no lights on the country roads. Then I suddenly remember the wolves. Sometimes there are wolves roaming around in the area. Of course I didn’t see any wolves, or wild boar, which are much more common in the Småland woods: these animals are very shy. I think that my imagination played me a trick due to the early stress of not making my run in time. Running every day is not a problem most of the time. But now and again it is a hassle, and some logistical problems have to be handled.

Most days of every day running are everyday running. I find half an hour in the morning, or in the evening, depending on work and other activities during the day. For a time, I decided to run in the morning, and did so for a while. However, when winter came and it was pitch dark and slippery because of the snow outside, I gave up and bought a membership card at the gym at the campus area where I work. It didn’t work out – I never really could figure gyms out –   so I started to run in the afternoon, still in pitch dark and on the same slippery tracks. Winter is a challenge. But when spring comes and the running trail is free from ice everything is easier and enjoyable.

Another challenge are those traveling days. I have had the good fortune to travel in my work, both in Sweden and abroad. But what do you do when the plane departs at six in the morning, and you are not going to arrive until nine in the evening, and the sun set two hours earlier? The answer is, run at four o’clock in the morning: it is sort of a special feeling, and I am all alone almost all the time. And it’s not as difficult as one might think. But it wouldn’t work every day.

So the logistics haven’t been a major challenge so far. Mostly, it is a matter of planning and trying to find those opportunities that every day provides. I would like to get the habit and run in the morning, but haven’t really managed that yet. However, there are other challenges that almost stopped my running streak: like injuries and illnesses.

 

Races

My running is not like Lars’s. I do not run every day, and I do take part in races and events. In fact I have a 10k race, the Great Manchester Run, coming up in exactly one week’s time. Hence, today I am not doing my usual long Sunday run, as I taper my training down in time for the event (I’ll have a short 7km run this evening).

So, given what I have said so far, where I do agree with Lars about the core aspect of running as ‘just running’, why do I take part in organised, some might say, competitive races?

The answer is not about times or places, pace or competition. It is mainly that I enjoy the experience of running with a large number of people with crowds cheering happily along side. I run events to raise money for good causes that matter to me (Mind and MSF at the moment) and that provides additional motivation on the day. I am normally a solitary runner, preferring my own company and thoughts – the very stuff of this blog for both of us – but every now and then a race with the crowds is a welcome and exhilarating change.

This year I have signed up for three increasingly long races: 10k, half and full marathon. So, I must admit, on top of the joy of running with others there is something of a self-challenge aspect to this. It touches again on the answer to the ‘why run?’ question. I think I also run races, in part, to see if I can: just to do it and to discover where my limits lie in a fixed context of distance and course. I’m not yet sure how consistent my answer actually is yet, and I will give it some more thought next Sunday in Manchester … 🙂

On every day running: Part 1 – why every day?

 

Last weekend I celebrated my second anniversary of every day running. I wrote a post on Facebook about it. In between the likes a perfectly reasonable question was asked: Why? I will try to give an answer, and also to give a few glimpses of how these two years have been. But first, why.

It started up with bad knees. My right knee hurt when I went out running. Therefore, I didn’t run that often. And when I did, most of the time I ran too far, so my knee started to hurt again. A vicious cycle, you know. I went to a specialist who gave me a choice: either surgery, or just see what happens. I chose the latter, already regretting my choice on the way back home. But specialists like that don’t usually sit around waiting for people to drop by through the lack of something to do. So the months I already waited connived me to let it go; now I had to try to see what happens. Later on that spring, the daily newspaper Corren carried an article about a man who was suffering from similar injuries, and that what was recommended by his physiotherapist was to run shorter distances more often. And in the article every day or streak running was mentioned. I thought that this was an insane idea. We all know that it is important to have a good old rest between workouts. And, of course, I had to give it a go! The same day I started to run.

The first week I just thought, give it one week. And then I can quit. So I gave it one week; and then two. Still surprised that it was possible. Then the third week came. And I just carried on, probably a bit surprised about it all, if I remember rightly. Around this time my mental approach to running started to change. Gradually my focus shifted from ‘is it possible to run every day?’ to ‘for how long is it really possible?’ Perhaps a subtle difference, but for me the difference was quite apparent. I went from having a laugh, to more of a serious curiosity about how long.

Before I go on, I think that I have to clarify what I mean when I talk about running. I’m not in a hurry. I’m not participating in any races. I run once every day, in the morning, evening or even in the night. I have one rule: to run more than 1 mile, 1.61 km every day. Actually I’m lazy and don’t push myself if I don’t want to. Most of the time I’ve run a bit more than 2 km, but many times 5 km and sometimes 15 km up to 20 km. But that is on rare occasions. I have a family, and there are other things that have to be done every day. So I can’t be out for hours. But I can always squeeze in 2 km. And if I feel good, am healthy and not injured, and I have the time, I go out for a longer run.

This is my philosophy of running, and it suits me fine. The best thing about running every day is that if I’m tired, or think it is boring, or I am short of time, I don’t feel bad if it is a short run, i.e. at least 1.61 km. During the two years since I started to run every day, I have never felt bad, or stressed for not working hard enough, or that I’ve run too short a distance; because I always know that I will run tomorrow. It is a sort of guilt-free running. Running always makes me feel good. But of course I don’t train for anything particular. So I can’t fail – I can only be a winner. This is my philosophy, and most of the time my practice. But not always. Sometimes logistics are in the way.

Not every run is a good run, but every run is good

On Sunday I completed the long run I planned. All 17km of it, up and down tracks and trails, roads and highways; very little of it was flat. The weather was wet and windy. And cold. I was wearing shorts and had no gloves, and my legs and hands quickly became numb and red. I felt like I had no energy at all. I was so slow that several faster runners overtook me on the road with very little effort, before I had really even got going. The rain soaked through all my gear making me feel even more heavy and sluggish. Towards the end my phone decided to shut down so I couldn’t even accurately log the full run in mapmyrun. And throughout I felt niggling pains in my ankles and knees. In other words, it was, at the level of details, an awful run.

However, even as I was slogging though the woods on a lonely track at around the 14km point, with the chilling rain running down inside my waterproof, I was struck how ‘in the moment’ of things I can become when running. The trees were hung with the emerald green of mosses dripping with life from the water in the air; the firs smelt fresh and sharp with rising sap; the greens and browns and greys of the woods were rich and intense; the uneven path under my feet was full of ancient stones connecting me to billions of years of Earth’s history. At the moment, cold and drained though I was, I was there, completely in that environment and moving though it. I thought back to earlier points in the run and though they were now just memory and the past, they had contained similar richness and were replete with lessons had I chosen to pay attention … That moment in the woods is now memory too, of course, although I made a special note to myself to write about it later.

This got me wondering about consciousness itself. It’s an enormous topic and very much at the forefront of research in cognitive science, neuroscience, psychology and philosophy. However, I approach the subject from a slightly different direction. In her great little book Zen and the Art Consciousness, Susan Blackmore notes that we pay less attention to the real phenomenology of consciousness than we should. During meditation she explored various aspects of conscious experience, including her sense of self, now, time, continuity of awareness and wholeness. She found all of these to be other than we think they are in our ‘common sense’ view of the world (one that is largely the product of our cultural, religious and intellectual history, I suspect). I have found similar things myself in meditation (although that is not the point of meditation). But I think running provides similar insights. Consciousness seems to flicker into slices of time. I find I am much more aware of the non-continuity of consciousness when running. I find myself suddenly snapping back into it from breaks in the stream of complete consciousness; in the breaks my body has just been running. And in that moment of ‘snapping back’ everything that I have not noticed somehow gets filled in, in a sketchy kind of way. Similarly for my sense of time. (I will write more about this soon, because I think there is something worth pursuing here.)

And so I think even a bad run provides a means for exploring who we are. I guess that is one answer I would give to Lars’s question about why we run: it is self-understanding: from the limits and possibilities of physical being, right down to the level of conscious experience. All running is good!