A recent post by Neil Bryant on Facebook started me thinking, so if you get to the end of this blog post feeling like it’s time you’ll never get back then please take it up with Neil :). His post was brimming with positive energy, enthused by the possibilities opened by his choice to move to the adventure playground that is Chamonix. I guess putting so much on the line for a lifestyle change ensures Neil sees the value in everything around him – the post had a childlike joy of discovery about it, and having been fortunate enough to run out in Chamonix this winter it prompted me to ask whether the snow had melted; had that visible, tangible change had occurred?
All this got me thinking about the running we do. Rather than generalising, I’ll speak from my own experience. During the week I tend to be a creature of habit to a degree. I’m fortunate enough to have woodland trails nearby and as I run in the morning I do get three very distinct changes in the year: the runs in the light, those in the dark, and those where you get to witness the change between the two. My trails are also changed by the seasons, although not as starkly as Neil’s between snow and summer, but still, the flora changes subtly, the sounds and the conditions underfoot oscillate, etc.
These changes are what ensure that my run never seems to feel stale. I frequently read advice stating I should run my trail in reverse, seek other trails, introduce new locations, keep it fresh, run on my hands whilst juggling a small kitten, etc. but I don’t get it. I don’t need these changes, I love the intimacy I have with the trail I run plus spotting the changes and cultivating that childlike mind (not just switching off, putting the blinkers on and getting bored: “I’ve seen it all before”, “Can’t be anything new”) is something I really value. I also think that as humans we like/ crave that stability, that habit.
The value and pleasure of understanding how your trails change and the huge change that can have on your awareness is pretty priceless and I encourage all to work on/ enjoy it.
Another frequently stated/ debated element of running (and many other sports I enjoy) is the empty arguments about which type is best: Road Vs Offroad, fell Vs trail, etc. Nothing turns me off more than reading/ having somebody argue why one is better for you/ more fulfilling/ original/ greater challenge, etc. I confess that this doesn’t preclude me from enjoying the banter generated from time to time; e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuBw39uCT4Q
The most ridiculous think is that it tends to be somebody preaching to the converted. As an example of this I picked up Boff Whalley’s ‘Run wild’, looking forward to reading tales of what he gets from being out there and odes to the mountains I love so much – the musings of a kindred spirit. What I got was repetitive droning about why running on roads was a substandard form… why does he care? How many road runners will read the book and be converted? I’ve never understood why people can’t just enjoy what they enjoy and let others enjoy what they enjoy… surely we’d all be happier?
As our world becomes more complex and information rich we look to collectives, mental boxes we can put things in and other methods to enable us to process and keep up. The question on my mind was what this tells us about us? Can we characterise people by the type of running they do? Are the stereotypes true/ fair reflections of the collective? I think there is enough in it for the personality/ characteristics of our favourite trails/ running types to be used as a mirror. Greek Philosophy counsels us to ‘Know thy self’. Running provides countless ways for us to do that.
My proposal is that what you seek when you lace up your trainers reflects who you are. You may live for exploring new trails or busting out a PB, reaching that summit , spreading your arms wide like wings at the top of a descent, racing, taking in views, enjoying the journey, facing up to the challenge, the list goes on!
Exploring a trail for the first time can be liberating and frustrating at the same time – the stop/ start of not knowing which path to take or the roll of some delicious, challenging single track. Over time it develops into a personal playground. Knowing each trail’s quirks and kings, inclines and exposed roots makes them feel like old friends. Driven by repetition and your passion, your running becomes a vehicle to understand the trail’s personality and how it is carved, influences and created by nature.
The events and runs we take on can challenge us and at extremes can put our safety into question. But these are often escapes from the stresses and strains of modern life, from our responsibilities in work, as a parent, or a way to work through feelings like grief or anything where we need time to switch off or focus on your thoughts.
I challenge you to take a look at your running over the years, how it has fitted into your life and what that has meant. Running can be a great release, sport or challenge, but it can also deepen and reveal the best qualities you have as a person. The type of running we do and the trails we run/ really love have a subconscious calling; they are a mirror to the soul if only we are prepared to look and listen.
Know your trails, know your running passion and you will know thy self.