The why question – part 2

I had this post all drafted in my head about two weeks ago and a combination (in equal measure) of laziness/business/pensiveness caused me to postpone the post.

the first part of the Why Run? question was answered a few weeks ago in terms of it being something humans are good at (from an evolutionary point of view) and so it seems a waste to use my ass for creating an impression on a sofa when its main purpose is for making me move a bit quicker than walking.

The second reason I run (the part  2) is a bit more abstract.

I am slow to fully explain this reason because if I launch into it with too much gusto you’re likely to get the look across your face that comes when you meet a hedonistic teenage/college buddy who, after 20 years and now in his middle years has found his soul and is now a God botherer or worse still, “into spirituality“.

That is too easy a dismissal and too easy a reason to give as to why I run but I’ll ty and explain it in a few simple paragraphs that can all be put in a box called perspective.

Most of us struggle along, doing our best with the normal routines of life and operate in a space where our natural condition is now to be mildly anxious about some abstract fear that we can’t quite put our finger on. This is the late 20th Century human condition.

For some of us the pervasive white noise of anxiety is to do with failing to achieve goals we set ourselves or society sets for us (think of the working mother who always feels that the normal day should have at least 28 hours in it) or the creeping anxiety we feel about climate change or litter in our seas or death or the recession or internet bullying or the war in Syria or whatever you’re having yourself. We’re never quite happy. Always searching.

In days of yore these anxieties were dealt with through religious devotion and participation in organised religion. At least God would ride shotgun for us.

If you’ve ever sat in a church and thought to yourself – there is no connection here for me then you start to realise that the growth in individuality that the western world promotes (I can do whatever I want) has unintended consequences – not least of which is the feeling that organised religion is not working for us.

On top of all of this I have a brain that generates tangential trains of thought like a Catherine wheel spinning out of control. I need some way of marshalling these thoughts so I can put them back in their place.

Despite what people I meet down the pub would tell you, I’m not given to sharing my thoughts with random strangers over a pint so the pub, as an outlet for my thoughts, is not on.

I can’t do a full brain dump on my nearest and dearest as  I want to keep them that way (near and dear).

So, what comes over the hill to my rescue?


Just a short note: When I took up running it was for all the obvious reasons to do with fitness and weight and speed. The food for my soul bit only came much much later (years later). I say this because if you’re out there trying to do a couch to 5k plan at the moment and can’t find what I’m describing that’s because you’re completely normal.

Running, and in particular running for a long time, does two things to me.

It slows down the flow of oxygen to my brain allowing me to strip away a lot of the superfluous noise that normally flows through my head. I would hypothesise that this is why exercise is good for hyperactive kids.  This brings me a sense of perspective and calm.  This removes the modern life anxiety thing I mentioned earlier. I guess that this is what deep prayer or meditation does for you as well.

The second thing that happens is that long distance running changes my perspective on my existence (sounds very deep, doesn’t it?) in that I am able to experience life on a completely different plane – almost as a third person – out-of-body. I guess anything that moves you from your comfort zone would do this to you – mountain climbing, sailing, diving.

The combination of these two things and the exhaustion they bring about, sometimes for hours, sometimes for weeks is very addictive.

It feels good. It makes me happy.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I run.

I should probably just buy rosary beads.

I should add that I am constantly injured and know that I will eventually end up as a slightly overweight hill walker with bad taste in anoraks and a flask of tea but it’s worth having something to look at as your life flashes before your eyes.

The why question – part 1

My lack of blogging over the past month is down to a number of factors.

All completely within my control but for anyone beyond my family who cares the main point to understand is that my running is going fine.

My target race at the end of May is still on the cards and apart from a really sore (i.e. will banjax me) left Achilles  all is well.

The long runs are up to 20 miles at the moment on  a handful of jellies and a swig of water so a longer race with a better eating plan should be possible – a case of hope over planning.

In relation to the question why do I run I have come up with several answers.

Rather than tax your tabloid/social media attention span with a 20 minute essay on the various reasons I’ll start you off with the most basic reason why I run:

For this I want you to think of this question:

Why does a dog lick his balls?

If your answer is because they taste nice then you’re on the wrong tact (and the wrong website!)

No, he does it because he can.

And that’s the primary reason why I run.

Because my balls taste nice Because I can.

I mean that it’s what humans have evolved to do. It’s our competitive advantage over every other species on the planet. We have the gift of endurance. We can metabolise fat as a fuel to keep us going, we have blood flow and sweat glands that allow us to keep our brains cool as we run, we even have a special muscle/ligament structure at the back of our necks that keeps our heads stable as we run (like a caveman steady-cam for our forward facing predator eyes).

We have extended this advantage to allow us to cover the world and to endure stress like no other species. All the endurance sports you can think of grow from this. Our relationship with other animals, particularly dogs and horses is based on this shared endurance.

So, on a fundamental level that is why I run – it’s what we’re supposed to do.

I’m sure, as I get older this will turn into cycling and brisk walks up hills and in forests to “enjoy the fresh air”

There is another reason why I run that goes beyond the idea of self-fulfillment that you do get from doing something that from the outset seems impossible but I’ll save all of that for part 2 of this answer.

Aunt Patty’s Question

In a land far, far away (OK, America) there lives a wise old woman who goes by many names. To some she is a mother, to others a sister, a wife or a grandmother.

To us she is Aunt Patty.

She’s not actually our aunt. I’m not even related to her. But in my mind the definition of family is pretty elastic. I’ve often been in situations where I’m explaining to a stranger that so-and-so is my wife’s brother’s wife’s sister’s husband. In my day to day life those links on the chain are completely artificial.

So if you’re a runner, Aunt Patty is the sort of lady of is likely to tell you to suck it up when the whinging and moaning comes to the surface. Her attitude, a thing missing from the youth of today, is that if it was easy then everyone would do it. Of course things are hard, that’s what makes them worth doing.

In her annual end-of-year card and photograph Aunt Patty signed off by asking me a question most runners generally ignore:

Richard, what are you running from?

My first reaction was to dismiss the question as something only a non-runner would ask.

Then, I thought more about it (a rare thing) and realised that it wasn’t just the what it was also the why, the how and when.

I hope to give some insight into those questions from my perspective in the next few posts.

Whether I tell you the actual story of how I lace up my shoes and when I run or whether I drift off into some of my more colourful metaphors I haven’t yet decided. I mean running is fairly boring to non-runners so the idea of telling you about the mechanics of it send me to sleep!

Hopefully there’ll be some sort of insight in the posts so others can understand what seems from the outside to be completely daft.

And I’ll be able to answer Aunt Patty’s question.

Running plans for 2014

This should be a short post as I can comfortably say, without a hint of dishonesty, that I have practically no plans for this year.

I’ve spent most of the Nov/Dec/Jan period producing more snot that is required to keep my insides looking smooth and this has had an impact on my running.

Impact is a running term than means I did very little running.

Now that my bouts of man-’flu and snotty nose seem to be coming to an end I had better cobble together something that gives me a reason to run for more than 10 miles at any one time.

There’s a 100km race in Italy in late May that goes past the village we holiday in. I have been dreaming about it for the past 6 years so I think this is the year I commit to it and make a fool of myself.

Il Passatore.

the race is 42 years old and gets over 4,000 entries (most for the relay) but it gets as many as 1,000 for the full event so it’s  well supported.

It’s kind of like the Highland Fling with pizza, a suntan and less sheep.

It starts in Florence and goes over two “big hills” to the 30 mile (50km) mark with a quad-shredding 50km of downhill running after that to steal your will to live. The 50km of downhill running has about 20km of steep down hills (switchbacks) followed by that very gradual hill that feels like running on the flat until you  arrive in the town of Faenza. The lack of quads at that stage makes it feel like you’re running through a muddy field – you end up in a slow death shuffle as your quads decide that lifting your knees is not in their job description.

I have no fear of the distance but the heat makes me very worried. I do not perform well with the warm hair dryer air of the Mediterranean filling my lungs.  The sun beating down on your back isn’t the real worry I have but the reflected heat off the road and the lack of shade in the first 30km.

The race starts at 15:00hrs so by 21:00 – 22:00 you should be well up into the hills which are cooler and forested and  I expect that this will be a problem for everyone. My real issue  is that I won’t be able to train for the heat as I’m stuck up here at 51 degrees north.

What will I do before or after this race on the racing front?

I suspect something cheap and local and, unlike last year, I will listen to my body and ease off it I feel like I’m getting injured.

The two races that fit the bill for cheap and local are the Wicklow Way Ultra in late  March and the Ballyhoura Mountain Marathon in early May.

The Wicklow Way can be tough if the weather isn’t with you but I’m started to get addicted to the coffee mugs you get as a finisher’s prize.

The Ballyhoura race is one of the most beautiful I’ve done to date but the course is like an extreme set of hill repeats with over 2,500m of ascent in the course and as it’s  3 weeks from the Italian job it might not work out.


I’ll see how the year goes before I offer up any other hostages to fortune on the racing front.

Now, where did I put those shoes?!



My mind

This is a running blog.

I’ve taken the month of January off from any serious running and running blogging and have filled this page with photographs taken in 2013.

After today it’ll be back to stories of sore knees, urban pissing and enlightenment on long runs. A disappointment to the people tuning in to see photographs but, as the posts are infrequent, not too much of a disruption.

This image should give you a good idea of what the inside of my head looks like.

It may look like a childish mess to you but it all makes sense to me.

The inside of my head

The inside of my head

That’s what beauty does

The sharp focus and shallow depth of field in this image draws your attention to the flower in the same way that you find yourself day dreaming in the barber’s chair as he runs the electric razor over the back of your neck.

The image empties your mind of the extraneous noise that makes up the thought processes of everyday life.

I suppose that’s what beauty does.

This must be why the more enlightened of us seeks beauty in everything – it helps to empty the mind and give clarity.

walk flower


This is the gas headlight on a very, very old motorbike.

The lamp was made by the Lucidus of Paris who made phares et lanternes  – lamps and lanterns.

My technically trained brain finds this as beautiful as anything in the natural world.