Allow me to tell you a story. By way of introduction, it’s a story about me – if you’ll excuse the occasional drama – and a story about running. And you can be in it too, if you like. I’ll try to keep it brief, because there’s more to come on my new blog. There’s always more to come. We’re always beginning again. I’ll tell you the one about how I came to running, a few reasons why I run, and why I’m interested in coaching runners of all abilities.
So I’ll start with hope, and hope to end with hope. Running does that kind of thing to you. Probably some kind of neurochemical side effect, but I’m transposing it as metaphysics.
Just over four years ago I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to run. I don’t think I wanted to. But my body didn’t want to either. Overweight. Depressed. Sometimes beyond caring to the point of self-destruction. Unwell. My wife ran but I didn’t get it. Spectated at big city mass participation events but scorned and resented the participants. Thought it pointless, self-indulgent. Watched her training for Coniston Trail Marathon and started supporting her on a bike. Still couldn’t run. Yet a change was coming.
One night, around my 30th birthday, I challenged myself to run home. Half drunk and wearing desert boots, I ran across a farm track, stars jangling in the clear late autumn sky, to my mum’s house. The next day I joined my wife and step father for a jog. I borrowed a pair of his Ron Hill Tracksters and stomped along in my boots. It was a bit like being drunk. Better. It was like two drinks down with a sea breeze and the sun on your face. It was like oxygen, pine, mountain air. Giddying. It was like love. Hormones, brain chemicals, whatever. It was sublime.
Picture 1: That fateful morning, with stepfather and running inspiration, Maurice Smith
It was also everything my life then lacked. I felt like I was on pause. Running can be running away, towards, sideways, it can be a jump, around, through, into, beyond. Rutted, smooth, up, down. A parallel track, the other way round. The long road, the short cut. It was a physical freeing beyond a psychological roadblock. I would later put my brain back into it and make it into a part of my work life. I don’t think anyone expected it. Running helped me wipe the slate. Look beyond the slate. It helped me back into the flow. It helps me understand.
What I’m saying is that this gift of running is worth thinking on, ruminating, and worth nurturing. It’s a way of touching and dancing in the flux of life. And I’d do it anywhere. Have done. Motorway hotels, parks, trails, hillsides, mountains, in the city. With shopping, with a buggy, couriering, catching. Lost, a bit lost, profoundly lost, found. I’m still here, found. Collecting traces of being on the streets, in the rain, on the trail, in the mountains on the fells. At races, in training, with other runners, now as a coach. As a dad, an absence to make presence possible.
And the things you think about. Feel. I wept half way through my first 10k around Rother Valley park, flooded with emotion at simply being capable. I rode an emotional wave of grief and loss, mixed with deep joy, at the Great North Run raising funds for Tommy’s, a premature and stillbirth charity, and meditated on my family’s lost sons and daughters. I’ve often meditated on my grandfather’s slow and painful death, his ulcerated legs. Pain. Physical and mental pain. Run through it. Embrace it for a little while. Look deep into it, fathom it. Then try to let it go.
Picture 2: With Jeni Harvey after the Neurocare 10k at Rother Valley. Sitting because I couldn’t stand up by then!
The ecstacy of release after so much pain. Learning. Spend two weeks barely able to walk, as a new father pushing a newborn to the minor injuries clinic to be told simply not to run again. Reaching the end of Worksop Half Marathon with blood sugar so low I could barely hold my head up long enough to get some food in it. But then, much later, the elation of a mid-week fell race, Bradwell, Burbage, Hathersage. Packs of men and women, all ages, riffling through the landscape. The sublimity of a cloud inversion on Black Fell at 6am. Greek pine and molten tarmac on singletrack over Agden Side in Bradfield on a Tuesday evening. It’s a roundabout way of talking about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I got to what I’m doing as a coach, and on Tuesday nights in Bradfield.
Picture 3: Working hard near the finish line of Bamford Sheepdog Trials Fell Race 2016, wearing my favorite race shoe, the Inov8 X-Talon 190
I know pain, I know release from pain. In my body, in mind. Not that I want pity, it’s just a bare fact. I’ll spare you the medical details. You see it a lot in running and other endurance sports, that it can be about enduring suffering. But speaking to others, it seems that we don’t empathise enough with those starting out. When we get it right, running is as easy as it always was, after we learned to walk. Get strong, get moving right. Technique, form. Running, and (re-)learning to run, is for everyone, it’s enabling, democratic, freeing.
In my short years of running I’ve tried to learn, understand and implement as much as I can about the body, and the body in motion. And as a trained researcher and coach, I’m fascinated by the intersection of intellectual and physical capacities that running constitutes. I can use this knowledge as a toolkit to enable a certain kind of freedom. And where do we often feel most free? Out there, on the trails, where there are trees and rocks and rivers. Can we know of the stoicism of sheep, the movement of an unfettered horse, the flight of the hawk, its speed and watchfulness? Understand the fall of a valley, the unsteadiness of rock under foot, the sink of turf, the weight of a climb, the brush of fern. I don’t talk this way out of blind verbosity.
On the outskirts of a city, there’s Bradfield, where we’re starting up this new group.
I’m taking the 5k group on Tuesday nights in Bradfield as a run leader and coach for Accelerate Trail Runners. I’m working on some ideas to get people to where they want to be in trail races. We are encouraging people in and around the area to participate, whatever their ability. From newcomer to elite, we can accommodate you. We’re not going to punish you, push you too hard, judge you. But if you’re worried it hurts, I’ll let you know I’ve been there. And by training smart, as we believe at Accelerate, it doesn’t have to. Running made easy again. Stu, Debs, Austen and the rest of the team are some of the very best running peers and guides you’ll find, and I feel honoured to be part of it. Join us.
For further information on the new group, see: www.acceleratetrailrunners.co.uk