Zen and the art of running

Running has become easier – and more interesting – since I realised that going for speed isn’t the only way to run. Not only is it acceptable to run in other ways, but it’s actually beneficial. So sometimes now I’ll go for a longer run, with no regard to the speed I travel, while in the gym I’m intending to try interval work, so faster sections coupled with slower recovery sections.

It’s the same in life.  We don’t always have to throw everything at it that we possibly can all the time, so that we stagger across the finishing line and fall in a heap. Sometimes we need to intersperse periods of intense activity with rest periods, so we can recover our strength for another big push. And sometimes we just need to plod on, knowing that the main thing that actually matters is reaching the end, and the manner of getting there is less important than the final destination.

I enjoy running not only for the physical challenge but also for the mental challenge. In this fast-paced world it’s difficult to take time out and allow your mind to wander. That’s why running with an audio book was a failure for me – one of the main benefits is the time for my mind to jump seemingly aimlessly from topic to topic, teasing out current worries and preoccupations, so that I return home refreshed mentally as well as physically.

As a child, I was always out on my bike. Even before the age of 10, I would be exploring the countryside, riding on main roads or country lanes, round the streets or to the next town or village. No-one would usually know – or seemingly care – where I was, or when I would be back, and I thought nothing of riding several miles in an outing. It feels shocking, looking back, but then again they do always say a child is more at risk at home with family than from strangers…

As an adult, I also enjoy exploring my surroundings. Especially when I worked in London, I would often spend my lunchbreak walking the streets, finding different places and routes, starting to join together the dots and learn how they are related.

Then when we had a dog, I would often go out walking with him. The greatest pleasure to be had was from exploring new country footpaths, to come out on a road miles from home and have to figure out an interesting way of returning. That’s why I’ve a sneaking suspicion that if I keep running through this year I’ll clock up a few miles across the countryside, rather than just on the roads. Even when I first started this time round, in September, I would set out on the roads and then sneak across to the lane that ran down to the footpath across country and home again, until the point when it came too muddy, and then too dark to run safely that way.

Running provides a way to keep in touch with my neighbourhood – who has a new car? who’s building an extension? Who’s out walking their dog, or collecting their newspaper? what other runners are out? It provides a way to feel good about myself, as I set and complete challenges and feel how my fitness improves. And it provides a way to clear out the cobwebs in my brain, to enable me to think more clearly about what needs to be done.

Most of all, it provides an opportunity to think about life.



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