Receiving a book as a present is such a delight. The expectation of the unknown surprise that it might be a new discovery on a topic or author you would never pick up in a bookshop or find on Amazon.
Running books do feature on my bookshelf, no surprises there. Yet I just finished one by someone you wouldn’t expect. The formula: a 1980s British band leader, now in his 50s, writing about the joy of running on trails and hills.
Boff Whalley? No, I’d never heard of him either. Chumbawamba? Yes, remember them. One hit wonders you could say, with “Tubthumping (I get knocked down)” That’s the man. I had a connection to my teenage years.
Anyway what has he to say about running? He’s middle aged, only took up running in his 30s and doesn’t run to get faster or compete for medals in races. So a typical MAMIL? Not half…
This book is a beacon for pure running. Close to nature, without technology or t-shirts, with all your senses, regaining a sense of adventure and truly memorable experiences. I related in many ways to what Whalley advocates.
Some of my favourite runs have been running just like this. Running the Camino de Santiago (40km+ a day), with only a destination in mind – the time, route or speed didn’t matter. Exploring the Tahoe Rim Trail over Lake Tahoe at 2500m. Running parts of the Wicklow Way Trail. Discovering city streets, parks, rivers, when travelling with work in Helsinki, Reading, Reno, Seattle and San Francisco.
Whalley did the same while touring with his band – his recollection of running up Mount Fiji outside Tokyo was one of the most memorable descriptions. Squeezing in runs before sound checks and rehearsals.
His main problem with joggers and runners today that people have moved away from movement as a function and experience in itself to wards organised, structured lives where running is just a task to be done. We drive to the gym to run on a treadmill rather than getting wet running around a local park, where we’ll get muddy, hear the river water flowing, the birds chirping in the trees. In short, we’ll feel alive.
This trends is typified by the big city marathon, which has grown as a phenomenon in the last 30 years. He takes particular ire at the New York City Marathon, the world’s largest with over 45,000 competitors.
His beef is that pounding the pavement on cordoned off roads, along a prescribed route, in brightly coloured running clothes, while listening to bad bands play bad music is not natural running. It’s artificial. Who cares if it’s 26.2 miles or 26.1 miles and if you do it in 3:01 or 4:59? It’s just a run.
His point is you can run anywhere, anytime and you don’t need Garmins, Gatorades, energy bars, podcasts in your ears, heart rate monitors, medals, magnesium tape, fancy t-shirts or big finish lines. You can have a much more rewarding and unique “experience” (he doesn’t like that overused word) by going out on your local canal bank trail, your local mountain walk, your local park or beach. Every time you do it the weather will be different, your mood will be different, your energy will be different and your senses will come alive and your mind will talk to itself.
I do get his point – however as someone who has done marathons (including the devil incarnate of organised running, the New York Marathon), I do understand that they serve a big purpose. They give people a goal, a target, an end date to focus their energy on for training. Plus it’s a distance people can relate to – “oh, you did a marathon? Well done!”
Plus the build up in the city, at the start line in Staten Island, in the 5 boroughs as you run through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx is special – a million people line those streets to watch and cheer you on. That can motivate some people more than being all alone out on a muddy mountain trail on the Wicklow Way some Sunday. That requires more self motivation and confidence to be able to find that enjoyment out there without all that whoopla, jazz and support.
So I would recommend this book. It wanders from topic to topic, gives an insight into beautiful trails and fell running tradition in the Lake District of England. It’s a personal story of why he runs. Everyone’s reason is different – it’s important that you find your reason to get up every morning and go outside, whatever your sport or interest. The most important thing is that you have that interest and invest time in it over the days and months – it will give you a lot more pleasure back in return.