Many regular runners come to believe that there is more to their experience of running than the ordinary cultivation of fitness or a quest to improve their racing performances and I am one of those people. For a lot of us in this situation it’s often quite difficult to explain what the ‘more’ is. Quite soon after running became a regular part of my day-to-day routine I knew that the activity suited me well. I loved the regularity, the self-imposed discipline and the contact with the world around me. I quickly connected with the running culture that I easily became familiar with.
Quite why I made friends with running so readily I don’t know, but I think now that it has more to do with the process rather than any of the outcomes. I say this because, although I enjoy running and racing well in the conventional sense, it has never been an essential part of the attraction for me. It has always been more important to me to be able to run than to succeed at it.
As soon as I started racing, I thought that it would be a good idea to record some of my experiences ‘on the run’, by producing written race-reports. I knew that the detailed experience of races, which I had often trained for specifically and over a period of many months, was soon lost if I didn’t write a report immediately afterwards. It was clear to me from the outset that the racing experience is a fleeting one, but it was valuable enough to me that I wanted to record and share some of its essence. It took me a little longer to realise that the moments I spent racing were just one collection of passing moments amongst a flow of many others, none of which could be truly captured. This of course meant that each race was a reflection of my life. As each race was fleeting, so was everything else.
I became convinced, and remain so to some extent, that running is an art form. Whilst I may not be able to produce a masterpiece in oil on canvas, I could shape my experience of the world through running. I felt I could create a beautiful experience through training, attention, travel, friendship and creativity. This suited my ego well, for now, not alone was I a runner, but I was an artist as well. Perhaps the knowledge that not all art is good art is what saved me from complete ego-mania.
In recent times I’ve come to believe that the ‘something more’ that there is to running, is the opportunity to quieten my mind and to make a more direct contact with the present moment than I manage at other times of the day. When I’m running I am encouraged into the ‘here and now’. Although my mind might drift whilst I run I tend to be much more aware of what surrounds me on the road that at my desk. This is even more true when I’m racing. It’s hard to let your mind drift away into speculation when you’re afraid that your heart might burst during the final strides of a hard race. In short, running functions for me as a crude form of meditation.
I don’t write as many race reports now as I used to, but I think that’s ok. I’ll certainly write more of them if the urge comes. Perhaps I know now that no matter how well I write that I simply can’t preserve the moment in words. These days I try to look around myself more both in races and on training runs – to sense the immediate, to be in the moment and to appreciate the process. My realisation that all of my experiences are transient makes those experiences seem even more valuable than before. To run with the knowledge that each run is a ‘one-off’ that can never be experienced again is to appreciate that run and those moments at their most intense.
Onwards through the fog.