Hey-up! How’s tha diddlin’?
Yup, it’s been a while. That’s partly because we were on holiday last week, staying at a holiday house in Broadlay, Ferryside, Carmarthenshire, Wales, UK. Of its many positive features (view, proximity to beaches where The Boys could roam, proximity to nice running routes, etc.), the lack of any data coverage, as well as more often than not voice coverage, was arguably the highlight. I could just about tap into the landlords’ WiFi if I stood in the right place and held the phone at the right angle, but there was never any guarantee! Took a (short) while to get used to, after that it was a highly beneficial detox. I can live offline, I just struggle to stay offline if t’Internet is within reach!
Another reason for my silence is that, quite simply, that I don’t have a topic to focus upon. With no races till September, I’m still running every day, but I’m not chasing any specific objectives. I still try to sneak in a 20-miler every week, or every other week, just not with the level of interest on my time as I did, and will do again, in preparing for a race and pursuit of a given outcome on the day. So Monday, for example, I headed off for a 20-miler but with no firm idea as to how to clock up those miles. I ended up in Clevedon, the town adjacent to Portishead, running along the coastal Poets Walk. It’s a path I’ve heard a lot about (Coleridge had a cottage there, you know), but which I’d never actually explored in my 14 years out there. One of those things that are so accessible you never make that tiny effort, because there’s always tomorrow… I was glad to put that to rights on Monday! Not that I’d planned to do so, mind: it genuinely was a case of running along, taking a left where I’d normally take a right, and carrying on for… well, the best part of ten miles before heading back! “I took a wrong turn and I just kept going” aren’t amongst Springsteen’s deepest lyrics, but they’re probably amongst his better known (you know that tune, right?) and will do just fine here!
I didn’t used to do that, of course. I used to plan my routes well in advance, ensuring I’d have the time and the energy to complete them. And that’s after I served an apprenticeship of only ever running along nearby Down Road or running 1.5mi laps of three nearby roads. That was when I started off running: I didn’t want to veer too far from home. I didn’t want to leave myself with a hilly finale but also I was still relatively fresh (half a year) from my epilepsy op and, quite simply, I didn’t want to be far from home in case I had a fit. It didn’t seem to bother me that a good third of the route was up a road with no pavement and with a blind bend, but there you go – I never said I was a logical fellow. In the build-up to my first 10k, I’d run that lap six times on a Sunday for what I’d then refer to as my “long run” – 18k. That’s when I figured I might just manage a half marathon. Anyway… that’s not the topic tonight!
Detailed, planned runs. That was then. But now… something’s changed. I have proven to myself that I can handle that hilly finale after any old run, I’m happy to just go with the flow and see where I end up. Most of my running is still on road, so options are limited – but who knows, if summer ever really kicks in and I can trust the terrain I may even wander off road… I certainly want to run The Alwyn Lloyd Half Marathon again! It’s a 13.6mi route I ran on the same day that my good (in fact, excellent) friend Richard Lloyd (who’s In Search of Alpe D’Huez, incidentally) and his wife Heidi welcomed Alwyn into the world: March 14, 2013. I planned on making it a weekly, maybe fortnightly, training route. But, disappointingly, two and a half months on I’ve yet to run it again. From bad weather to marathon training (for which I sought longer but flatter runs), I’ve always had an excuse. And now? Well it’s that pesky British weather again, the rain putting me off not so much the muddy trail (not that it helps) as the slippery rocks by the coast along the world’s second greatest tidal range (13m, my friends). But I’ll be back…
I can’t give you a date as to when I started relaxing about route planning. I can, however, give you a date as to when something else changed. But first let’s get a few things straight…
I’m often asked why I run if I don’t enjoy it. In order to answer that, let’s clarify what ‘enjoyment’ is. I’m going to lean on Wales-born, America-residing philosopher Mark Rowlands and some of his thoughts from “Running With The Pack: thoughts from the road on meaning and morality”. On p. 200, he looked to define ‘joy’ – a feeling which people close to me know I deem ‘overrated’! Here’s how Rowlands tackles the subject:
“Joy can feel like many things. Feelings can accompany joy, but they do not define it or make it what it is. The joy I encounter when I run with thoughts that come from nowhere is, in t terms of the feelings that accompany it, quite different from the joy I encountered later on today’s run, when I understood that all the reasons I had, or could ever have, had no authority over me. Nevertheless, there are both forms that joy can take. In its essence, joy is not a feeling or even constellation of feelings. Joy is a form of recognition.
The more our lives are dominated by the instrumental, the more we will value pleasure. The function of joy is quite different. Joy can assume many experiential forms. There is the joy of focus, the experience of being completely immersed in what one is doing. There is the joy of dedication, the experience of being dedicated to the deed and not the outcome, the activity and not the goal. There is the joy of enduring, the experience of playing the game as hard as you can play it, of giving everything you have to the game and leaving nothing in the tank, no matter the experiential toll this exacts. There is the joy of defiance, wild and fierce: no, you will not break me, not here, not today. Joy is found in the heartbeat of the run, whatever form this takes. But, ultimately, all of these come to the same thing. Joy is the experience –the recognition– of intrinsic value in life. Joy is the recognition of the things in life that possess value in themselves – the things that are valuable for their own sake: the things in life that are worthy of love. Pleasure distracts us from what does not have intrinsic value. Joy is the recognition of what does. Pleasure is a way of feeling. But joy is a way of seeing. Joy is something that pleasure is not and can never be. It is the recognition of the places in life where all points and purpose stop”
(You read that again. Oh, and I touch-typed it all without making a single typo. That gives me joy. No, pleasure. Oh whatever)
If you agree with Rowlands (and I do), running has always given me the joy of focus, of dedication, of enduring and of defiance. I have never claimed to enjoy the run itself but I have always acknowledged the fulfilment I feel when I stop knowing I have achieved ‘something’. And, for the first 374 of my running days, “achieving something” was my primary objective. Over that year, ‘something’ morphed from losing weight to running a 10k into running a half marathon and, ultimately, into running a marathon. Every time I put one foot in front of the other, I was working towards one of those four goals…
…then, on April 28, 2013, I put one foot in front of the other around 30,000 times and completed the 2013 Greater Manchester Marathon. I achieved what had been my over-riding goal for around six months, far more than any other objective had spent as my driving focus.
Where did that leave me? Did I leave me with “post-marathon blues”? Did it leave me saying “no mas”, as I did during the final mile of last September’s Bristol Half Marathon? Did it leave me longing for something more – say an ultra?
Truth be told, it didn’t leave me with any of the above. I knew it wasn’t going to be my last: but having already signed up for several halves meant the marathon blues never had a chance to kick in. I’d already contemplated ultras but had made a conscious decision to steer clear of them, at least for 2013, due to the challenges posed by the training. That’s not to say I’m not daunted by the running bit: I’ve just not even got to that stage of the thought process yet! So where I found myself, as I crossed the finishing line near Old Trafford, was…
…in The Club.
Membership of most clubs comes with a start date and an expiry date. Beside me as I type is my Totley AC Running Club Membership Card: I’m number 1321, I’ll have you know. But that card’s only valid until 31/12/13. So next year they’ll have to find at least one more digit, as the three used on this card won’t suffice for 2014. Nevertheless, there is an expiry date and it’s clearly spelt out, blue on green.
There are, however, clubs for which membership never expires. And, once a marathon runner / a maratoneta, always a marathon runner / maratoneta. My Dad is a maratoneta: always will be. And, thanks to Manchester (of all places), Giacomo Squintani, Giancarlo’s son, is also a maratoneta. Forever.
So… are there any benefits to being in The Club? Because Lord knows, it was hard enough to get in!
There are – and many. The line between some of them (e.g. self-confidence and smugness) can be blurred. Maybe one day I’ll try and list them all (suggestions welcome!). Right here, right now, I just want to focus on one:
Members of The Marathon Runners Club are entitled to enjoy running
Again, spend some time on that thought… it’s not as deep as Rowlands’, but in the context of this blog it might just be more challenging… so let me spell that one out again, in bold even, in case you think it’s a typo – after all, I’ve spent over a year telling you that I can’t stand running. So what’s this volte face? Am I now saying that, actually, I can stand running?
Members of The Marathon Runners Club are entitled to enjoy running
Let me put it this way. I have now proven to myself that I can complete the historically-charged distance of 26.2mi / 42,195km. I have proven to myself that all the roadrunning was not in vain. And, at this particular moment in time, my daily roads are not geared towards any specific race. Yes, I’m taking part in the affirmation of running that is Longest Day Run, organised by Simon: and you should too! On June 22, dust off those running shoes and clock a mile. Personally, along with fellow nutters, I’ll be aiming for more: probably 20, potentially 23, 26.2 if I feel reeeeaaaalllly well on the day. But because it’s a case of my route / my rules, and because I’ll be running on my own, I’m not overly fussed about distance and certainly not about time. I just want to…
…well yes, enjoy it. I want to run along a nice route, probably along the Bristol Channel as it becomes the Atlantic, and enjoy its sights and sounds. I want to feel the “heartbeat of the run” to which Rowlands so often refers, free my mind for the wind to blow into it some challenging thoughts… and soak my weary muscles in a Radox bath, as I did on Monday after a run that proved harder than Manchester. It was six miles shorter but hillier; I hadn’t carbloaded or done any of the specific preparation that I did before the big 2-6; and there were no crowds cheering, no fellow runners inspiring. Much as I would love to run with someone else on Longest Day Run, I’ll be alone: just as well I’ll have some attractive scenery to accompany me.
So there you have it – I think I’ve stumbled into an admission of pleasure. Because joy has been an integral part of my runs from the start: it’s just not been a smile-inducing type of joy, but then I’m a mardy bum rarely seen smiling at the best of times. What has crept into my running is an ability to derive pleasure from sights during a run, from the act of running itself. And the door for that was left ajar on April 28, in Manchester. That day I entered the exclusive-yet-open-to-all Marathon Runners’ Club: that day all my hard work paid off and I could finally relax a little. Which is not to say I won’t take future races as seriously, or train as hard for them: but it is to say that, all the time I’ll be doing so, I’ll be doing so as a member of The Club, not an outsider still looking to earn admission. And that’s a mindset changer.
Much as I always thought I’d complete the 26.2mi course, even if it meant walking, ‘thinking’ counts for nowt – it’s all about doing it. And I did it. Whatever happens (or doesn’t) next, I’m in The Club. I’m a maratoneta. Nobody can ever take that away from me. I’ve joined my Dad, and many other people whom I admire, gained my life membership. And that, my friends, gives me great pleasure.
But don’t worry – I Can’t Stand Running will live on! And trust me, there will be plenty of times when I won’t be able to see any sights or hear any sounds and will be out there running purely for training purposes. Hey, days start getting shorter in three weeks’ time! It will be winter before you know it, those dark and gloomy mornings of 5:30 20-milers preparing for… well, for whatever marathon I’ll be doing next spring. The next one, as you know (albeit there was no fanfare), is Chester, on October 6. That’s right, 128 days away. When will I start training for that?
Well, there’s another thing about being in The Marathon Runners’ Club, if you’re also a member of the Runstreak Fraternity (as I have been now for 231 days). You don’t really stop or start training for a marathon. You change distances and intensities, you tweak the goals of each individual run, always looking to avoid just running for the sake of clocking miles (as Julian Goater would point out at this stage): but, having got to that level, you try to stay there. Personally, I like to think I am always at a stage where I could run a half marathon the following day, and a marathon given a fortnight’s warning (for tapering purposes). Which is not to say I could run a decent time on just two weeks’ notice, but that I could get round. I say that at a time when I’m still clocking a 20-miler every fortnight or so, mind… and at least a half marathon distance every week… now surely that can’t last, can it?
Talking about different planets, Wales (sorry Fi!) was great, by the way. Focusing on the running, I didn’t run far but I did love every minute of running along the Carmarthenshire coast and up some of its unforgiving hills. Loved the sound of the waves, the sight of the water and Llansteffan Castle (which we’d visited), the treacherous rocks, the sound of silence along its roads… just not keen on its flying insects, much as they spurred me on to work on my breathing. The climbs proved good training: upon my return, I reclaimed a hilly CR on Strava!
Here’s a shot of me running in Ferryside, Wales. Not at my fastest, mind: not on those rocks! Much as I’d love to sign off by citing this blog’s name, you might just not believe me this time.
Apologies for the armpits, by the way, as well as the pseudo-demonic left eye. And shame you can’t see 'Totley' on my vest.