I've just picked up a copy of Boff Whalley's "Run Wild" (about time you may say, and you'd be correct) and have waltzed through the first 10 chapters in no time at all, buoyed to be reading sentiments which closely follow mine.
It's not so much that he sneers at the Big City Marathon and road running, it's that he recognises (quite rightly, in my opinion) that the phenomenon of that section of our sport has very little to do with the joy of running and re-connection with health and nature, and everything to do with the modern consumerist society and the cult of "experience".Three figure entry fees. five figure total entries, dancing girls, blaring bands and blue-chip sponsors have nothing at all to do with the pure joy of putting one foot in front of the other!
Which is not to say that I, in any way, condemn those who choose to pursue such activities. If you enjoy it, do it. But recognise what you're doing, understand that you're just part of the circus.
But, surely, the real joy of running is to be out in the wild, breathing in clean air, without the need to dodge traffic, enjoying the expansive views and the ever-changing face of nature, relishing the need to connect, both physically and mentally, with the ground beneath your feet, reading its contours and allowing the subconscious mind to adjust your footfall. On good days, you enter an almost trance-like state where it all happens without effort, and those are the moments which make it all worthwhile.
However, as much as I'm loving the book so far, one thought kept entering my head as I read it. Now, admittedly, I'm only at chapter 11 and so there's plenty of time for Mr Whalley to expand on his views but what kept crossing my mind was this;
If he rejects the idea of city marathons and road running because it is, effectively, artificial then surely, extending that logic, in the end you have to reject racing of all sorts, wherever it takes place, since the philosophy of running wild and running free is to be able to do just that, without constraints (of time, of route etc) and for pure enjoyment.
The freedom I'm enjoying in my running right now has re-ignited my love of being out on the hills and, having initially fought against this change in focus, I'm now entirely comfortable with it. In the past, runs always had a focus. That's what all the training bibles say - you MUST have a purpose for every run, otherwise it is "wasted".
Of course, the people who write such books do completely believe in what they are saying and, within the narrow context of ever-improving times and race targets, they're almost certainly correct.
But it concerns me that we can get into a mindset where running is only worthwhile when we have these targets and when we follow regimented training plans. That pressure can be felt by any runner, at any stage, but even more so, I suspect, by people who are new to the sport. These days, I've got a lot more respect for those runners who head along to JogScotland twice a week for a social trot and have no pretensions beyond that and no intention of getting sucked into the industry that is modern day running.
As for me, I've not raced in a good while now, not been down to running club but have been heading out onto the hill behind the house, exploring all sorts of nooks and crannies, sometimes making big efforts, sometimes walking, sometimes heading straight up the hill track, sometimes fumbling my way down off-path through the tussocks and bogs of these north-facing slopes. And I love it!
There's a balance in my life right now, which wasn't there in the past. I love my runs, I look forward to them, I enjoy them in the moment (because, if I'm not feeling on top form, I can just take it easy), I love the views, I love the fact that I see nobody up on those quiet hills.
But I also love the fact that I'm generally up and down and back home within a couple of hours. Plenty of time to pursue other interests, time to spend with Kirsten, time to prepare the house for our imminent arrival. In the past, running almost bordered on an obsession (almost bordered? Who am I trying to kid!). The truth is, and I still see this with plenty of other people now, it fills a hole, it plugs a gap, which could otherwise be filled with something more negative. It's no coincidence that the fellrunning world (the long distance one in particular) is full of people with histories of depression, addiction and, generally negative behaviours, who have found salvation amongst the hills.
Whether it be age, experience, circumstances, state of mind or something else, the fact is I have no need to plug the gaps any more. Funnily enough, there don't seem to be any gaps, and that's before our little lass comes along and fills our every waking thought and deed (and fills every cloth nappy!)
I'm not sure if or when I will race again. I may do so, but it will be on my terms and because I want to. I missed another chance this weekend - the start of the Lochaber Winter League and the 4 mile canal bank race. It really didn't appeal. We did go and marshall though, and I thoroughly enjoyed directing everyone back up onto the canal bank as they headed for home, offering what support I could and taking pleasure in the smiles on their faces.
And, on Sunday, we headed up to Inverness, where I'd been asked to present an award at the Inverness Blitz Awards Evening and we had a wonderful time, marveling at the commitment and dedication of both the young people who picked up their awards, but also the people at the club who make it all happen and provide their time and energies to make a difference to the lives of all those young people.
I'd already been thinking it was about time I gave some more back and tried to help make a difference. I did the LiRF some time ago and I always thought about doing the CiRF. Perhaps it's time to do something about it, help out with the next generation of runners and see if, just maybe, I can incorporate my philosophy in respect of the joy of running into the inevitable rigidity of modern day coaching.
I'm running free........