Less can mean a lot more

HendaA friend told me that my name was mentioned in a recently published book ‘Grit Under My Nails‘ by Henda Salmeron. I first met Hendra during the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in 2012 and again in 2017 when she was running the Way of Legends and I was on the crew.

I bought the book and searched for my name. I soon found it: “And Ed did” I was very pleased with that, it said a lot. Like most pieces of art we need to stand back a little to fully appreciate its power and beauty. The previous sentence said “Her instructions were simple:Get her home“. I think from that you can deduce that there was a problem and I was expected to help overcome it. Think a little deeper and you might realise that the instructions were simple with no detail, indicating that the person who said “Get her home” had confidence in my ability.

Look back a little further and you discover that Henda was running a 160 mile multi-stage race in Spain to celebrate her 50th birthday. It was day 3 (a relatively easy 29.5 mile stage) and things were falling apart due to the perimenopause (men you might have to Google that). “I sat on a fallen tree tree stump next to a dirt trail and cried while praying that the race director would show up in his car so I could quit on the spot.” That didn’t happen and Henda got to a checkpoint. Annie Dougall, a good friend who I meet in the Kalahari, wouldn’t let her quit and walked the 6 miles to the next checkpoint where she handed her over to Dr Laura Watson, a very experienced race medic and ultrarunner.  It was Laura who said “Get her home”

Henda could have written about how she sat in a field and cried her eyes out while I sat there with my arm around her, before I gradually coaxed her to carry on. How I talked when needed and kept quiet when it was appropriate. How she cried some more and how she babbled on about some quite intimate subjects; the sort of things I was not comfortable talking about even with my wife. But she didn’t. Instead she wrote. “Her instructions were simple; “Get her home”. And Ed did.”

That says a lot about the experience; too raw and painful to describe. And a little about me, I don’t make a fuss, I just get on and do it; I’m reliable.

I think I would like my epitaph to be: “Ed Did”

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Are you a runner or someone who runs?

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Last weekend I helped with a race. My job on Friday afternoon was to run part of the course to make sure the markings were clear and still there. One of the organisers showed me on a map which section he wanted me to check and when he got to the point where the route joined a road he said. “You will remember that bit from last year, it’s that long steep hill where I came past you in the van  and said do you want a lift. You looked at me as if I had two heads and said “Why would I want a lift?” and ran on.”

That incident was the first time I had thought about the difference between ‘runners’ and ‘people who run’. I was a runner, he was someone who ran. ‘People who run’ go for a run in the same manner as they go to the cinema, go shopping or do any number of other things. For ‘runners’ running is a way of life. We still go to the cinema, go shopping (mainly for trainers and brightly coloured kit) and do other stuff. But, it is running that  is our bedrock, our sanity; it is what defines us. For me it is what makes life richer and and me a better people. We runners do not have a monopoly on that, I am sure film buffs find the cinema industry makes their lives rich with all sorts of stories and many people have experiences that make them good people. But I am glad I am a runner, it sits well with me.

A person who runs looks out of the window to see if they will go for a run. A runner looks out of the window so that they can choose the right kit to wear.

I wonder what other examples there are to illustrate this dichotomy?

www.trailrunningman.com 

Oh, how I wish Descartes had been a runner

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The website askphilosophers enables ordinary people to ask philosophical questions and get answers from eminent philosophers. So I thought I’d see what there was about running.

Out of 7,568 questions there are only 31 about sport, and none about running, which is strange given this question posted on 20th December 2007:

 

“The early philosophers were much involved with sport, in particular Aristotle who used the Olympic Games as metaphor for society. Why does sport feature little, if at all, in modern philosophy? From John L….” 

There was one response on 27th December 2007 from Kalynne Pudner *, which I thought quite erudite, but it did not inspire me.

“That’s a very good question, John, and one without a better answer, I suspect, than the limits of practicality. So many topics for philosophical reflection, so little time! As a matter of practicality, many philosophers feel the pressure of researching and publishing in the more traditional philosophical categories, in the interest of a respectable and marketable curriculum vitae……”

Then I realised that I knew the answer with a fierce clarity.  It was because Descartes was not a runner.

For those of you a little bit rusty on the history of philosophy I will try and explain, in simple terms, the relevance of Descartes not being a runner and the impact on the world had he been. René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Dubbed the father of modern western philosophy.

It was Descartes who said, “I think therefore I am” and in effect changed the course of philosophy from the dynamic to the passive; from trying to discover the meaning of life from the contemplation of sporting endeavour to idle navel gazing.

Now I am sure that Descartes, with his brilliant mathematical mind, meant ‘I contemplate how I form part of and affect my environment and think about how that fits in with the greater Cosmos, therefore I am an integral and important part of the Cosmos’. Lack of space in his “Discourse” first published in 1637 meant that this was shortened to “I think therefore I am” which loses a bit of meaning in the shortening. A couch-potato can watch a ‘soap’ and think ‘Oh dear I have eaten all my crisps, I’ll ask Mum to nip into the kitchen during the adverts and get me a packet of biscuits or perhaps two.” Thinking and existing, but not quite how Descartes saw it.

Now had Descartes said, “I run therefore I am” it would have been a whole different kettle of fish (The layman’s term for a philosophical debate). Running is active, runners are alive, runners know what it means to overcome adversity, inertia and pain and runners don’t just exist, they live life in a gutsy way. The world of philosophy would have been outward looking, fun, exciting and mainstream.  Think of the rich vein that could have been mined using Kelly Holmes’s Olympic triumphs as metaphor.

Had Descartes been a fan of the great bard Shakespeare, then he might have seen the relevance of running. In Shakespeare we find “Now bid me run, and I will strive with things impossible”. But no, Descartes is remembered for “I think therefore I am” turning philosophy into an internally focused past time that is the preserve of academia.

*  Kalynne Pudner’s bio from her blog:- Just your typical Philosophy Ph.D. with nine kids. I teach at Auburn University and love it — War Eagle! In the best of all possible worlds (whatever Leibniz might have to say on the matter), I would clean a room and come back to it an hour later without weeping in despair…eat chocolate without fearing the scale’s retribution…speak French without having to stop and think, “Quel est ce mot?”…and write without ceasing.

www.trailrunningman.com

Behind You

Ugly-Sisters-Tulisa-and-MileyA pantomime wouldn’t be complete without shouting out she/he/it’s behind you a few times. It’s usually a monster, baddie or something similar that is behind the lead character or dame, who turns around just as it disappears from view.

In the running world it is someone who has great advice, or who can inspire who is behind you.

At the National Running Show on 20th & 21st January they had some great speakers and an impressive line-up of runners and adventurers to chat to in the experts area. The person I wanted to hear talk was Lisa Jackson, who has the impressive statistic of coming last in 25 marathons, and Carl Dudley, author of the blog, BigCarlRunning, was the person I wanted to talk to. As you can probably guess from the title Carl is no racing snake.

I was not disappointed by Lisa’s talk she was inspirational and had some great advice. She implored runners to think of pbs (personal bests) in other terms than just time and suggested; people talked to, friends made, unusual sights seen etc. She urged us not to think about the time it took to run, but how good a time we had on the run. I could tell this struck a chord with the audience and I was told later that her talk got the best applause.

I first met Carl when I attended a workshop run by Dave Cornthwaite on his boat moored in Limehouse Basin, London. The workshop was about making money from your passion. The arrangements were to wait at the gate onto the pontoons and Dave would meet us and we would be shown the way to the boat. That was where I met Carl. He was a big guy, much taller then me and heavier by a large number of kilos. I assumed that his passion was probably photography or something similar. When the workshop started Carl explained that his passion was running and helping people to start running. He had set up a number of running groups, blogged about his experiences and had run several races including a half-marathon. I was blown away by his enthusiasm and how many people, mainly overweight, he had help to run.

It was at that workshop that I came up with the name Trailrunningman® and Carl settled on BigCarlRunning. Carl used to be quite sporty, but a brain tumour resulted in a change of behaviour (e.g. buying loads of packets of biscuits on the way home on Friday night and eating them over the weekend). At the start of 2015 Carl weighed 30st; he has shed a lot of that excess weight now and this is what he says on his website:

“I am here to motivate the world to get out running or to just get active in any way they want. I love pushing myself as far as I can, then pushing on further. I may never win a race, but the achievement is the finish line not the finish time – plus I get a bit more out of my entry fee if I take longer!”

The next time you finish a race don’t head off home or to the bar, wait on the finish line to cheer the last finishers in. Then talk to them, you will learn a lot and be motivated to be a better runner, whatever form that takes.

BigCarlRunning

Trailrunningman®

Ode to a new run

Inspired by Calvin Harris – The Girls

EC IOW

I like them road runs
I like them trail runs
I like them muddy runs
I like them mixed terrain runs
I like them training runs
I like them fun runs
I like the recovery runs
And I like steady runs
I like them long runs
I like them short runs
I like them hot runs
I like them cold runs
I like them slow runs
I like them fast runs
I like them carrying a little bitty weight runs

Now baby (baby)
I’ve got a lot of love to give
And I’ve been over
over-subscribed with running routes
See you’ve got (you’ve got)
A little thing I haven’t seen before
But I must warn ya
That I can’t help but play around for sure, for sure
Because

I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in

Now maybe (maybe)
I can learn to settle down one day
But right now, I’m living life to mess around and play
See you’ve got (you’ve got)
A little thing I haven’t seen before
But I must warn ya
That I can’t help but play around for sure
I did it before

I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in

I like them road runs
I like them trail runs
I like them muddy runs
I like them mixed terrain runs
I like them training runs
I like them fun runs
I like the recovery runs
And I like steady runs
I like them long runs
I like them short runs
I like them hot runs
I like them cold runs
I like them slow runs
I like them fast runs
I like them carrying a little bitty weight runs

I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in
I get all the runs in, I get all the runs in

Put some art into Fartlek: be creative, find your inner child and you will go faster.

I wrote this sometime ago, but I don’t think it ever saw the light of day.

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I must be getting old because it took two tree-related incidents to fire up my imagination to come up with the theme for this blog post; fun! Newton just sat under one tree, had an apple fall on his head, and hey presto he’d thought up the whole law of gravity thing.

I was running along a route which passes under a group of trees with widespread branches and noticed that a massive flock of starlings were resting there. The white patches underneath indicated this was not the place to hang around. I sprinted through that section as fast as I could and escaped without any blemishes. I was quite impressed with my speed. A few days later I passed by a very old and twisted oak tree and remembered passing it a few years earlier running with two ladies who insisted on climbing it. They were both in their sixties, but had not lost their youthful enthusiasm for climbing. It was then I had my eureka moment (I know different scientist) connecting the two tree incidents – a lot of the time we’ve lost the child-like fun of running. Running books talk about ‘Fartlek’, a Swedish word for “speed play”, but unfortunately it has become just another interval session; we’ve hammered the joy out of it.

When I thought about the fun times I’ve had running I realised that many have come about by accident, but I am now more alert to the opportunities. The first that springs to mind was a rather incongruous event that happened in the middle of a 40-mile training run in preparation for the Comrades Marathon. I was about halfway into the run when I meet some young children on a farm track. One of them asked where I had come from, when I explained he didn’t know where I meant until his sister said, “It’s near where we stop for McDonald’s when we visit Nan.” “Cor that’s miles away” he said “you must be knackered. Do you want to race me on my bike?” I’ve never understood why he thought I would want to, but I took up the challenge. He pedalled furiously, and I ran as fast as I could. Fortunately, the track was muddy, making cycling hard and I just managed to beat him to the gate at the end of the track. The children went off for their tea and I had the prospect of 20 miles more running after exhausting myself in a pointless race. I chuckled to myself most of the way back at the stupidity of it, but it had been fun.

The next fun bit was post-Comrades, on a recovery run. I was jogging along at a comfortable pace, on a narrow path in a wood, when I disturbed a pheasant. He decided to run away from me by running straight ahead along the path, rather than dodging to the side into the wood. I sped up to see how fast he was, he sped up, I sped up some more. He was more than a match for me. I tried even harder and he resolutely refused to fly or escape to the side. I was determined to beat him. Then there was a sudden urgency as I realised that we would soon reach a busy road and I was probably chasing him to his death.  I put in a lung-bursting effort and started gaining on him before he casually flew off to the side and into the woods. What a great speed session that was.

Since then I have chased deer, kingfishers, hares, herons, outrun lippy kids on housing estates, played aeroplanes running down hills, raced cars (not that difficult in London), run to beat the breaking waves on Hastings seafront and on one occasion chased a shoal of fish up a stream.

Release your inner child, have fun and at the same time get some speed work in.

www.trailrunningman.com

 

Serendipity – or running is like life

I didn’t want a hilly lung-bursting run today, I just wanted to cruise along, so I needed to find somewhere flat. Not an easy task when you live in Cornwall and, as I have just moved to this particular area, I had no idea where to go. I could have used a map to plan a route, but that is no way to explore. With a predetermined route there is a compulsion to stick with it and ignore interesting looking side tracks. I set off clueless, trusting in my judgement and Lady Luck. She is normally more reliable than my judgement.

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As you can see from the photographs above she delivered; a nice flat run along the Red River Valley Nature Reserve. She also delivered a sighting of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker; it flew off before I could get a photograph, which probably explains its name.

If you look closely at the picture above with the fence in you will spot the runner’s equivalent of the door in the back of the wardrobe to Narnia. If you haven’t spotted it there is a bigger picture below.

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Yep, that is a big picture. Obviously I went through there and discovered a magical wonderland full of enchantment. Oh yes I did, and unlike the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, I have photographic evidence.

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I had an absolute ball and the great thing is, there are even more little paths to explore.

So why do I say running is like life? Well, so often runners only follow a few predetermined routes and are so obsessed with time and distance that they pass up the opportunities to disappear into Narnia, just like we do in life. The humdrum crowding out the exceptional.  Surprise yourself, do something different and really feel alive.

Trailrunningman® publisher of RUN Magazine