Riding the upcurve
This newsletter was first published on Patreon on 21 February 2022
The only way is up: Keely Hodgkinson breaks the British 800m record
An article popped up on Runner’s World over the weekend headlined Why we run: 19 inspiring runners share their reasons for running, with the subtitle: “Jasmin Paris, Beth Pascall, Richard Askwith, Damian Hall and many more on why they love to run”.
My first thought was that I knew all those people - three of the four runners name-checked in the sub-title have co-hosted weekend running retreats with me, and three of them have been guests on my podcast. Then I read the article a bit deeper and found to my surprise that I too was one of the 19 “inspiring runners” sharing our reasons for running.
I barely remembered sending the magazine’s editors my thoughts a few months ago, but I must have done. My take, in the article, on why I run was this:
I still wake up some mornings and question why I do it. “Stop pretending,” I tell myself. “You’re not a runner. Stay here in bed where it’s warm.” But 10 minutes into my run, it all comes flooding back. The freedom, the joy of movement, even the rain, the heart racing, the sense of being a child again. And then, afterwards, the feeling of wellbeing that washes through the body. This is why I run, I think, happy, tucking into breakfast. And for a few moments everything is right in the world.
It feels like a sentiment I’ve expressed before, and will express again, which is maybe why I couldn't specifically remember writing it for Runner’s World this time. It rings true, of course, and does capture how I feel. Many of the other "inspiring runners" wrote similar things.
I particularly enjoyed Jonny Muir’s take on the question, and I said so on Twitter. His response was interesting: “Thank you. ‘Why do you run?’ is a tired question. A creative response is needed.”
That got me thinking. It is a tired question, which has indeed been asked many times before. But it is still an interesting question, and one that continues to turn over in my head many years after I first had an idea to write a book called Why We Run. (That was my first running book idea, before Running with the Kenyans. It was never written.)
Muir’s put-down of the question sparked me to dig a little deeper into it on my run on Sunday morning. Was there another, more creative answer? Something else I haven't thought of? It was windy and raining. Why, exactly, was I out here running along the canal, I pondered.
Partly it was to be out in the elements, to feel the fresh wind on my face, the energy and zest of nature waking me up. Partly it was just the joy of being able to run again after being injured, simply to again be able to feel that easy movement in my body, self-propelled, with no fancy gear or machinery, just me and the path; the sense of freedom that that brings.
But I realised that something else I love about running is its innate sense of progression.
I love the feeling, once you start putting some consistent running together, that you are getting in shape, that things are starting to feel easier, that you are beginning to run a little faster. I like the feeling in my body as it starts to change shape, with strength and fitness becoming more noticeable in my everyday activities. (It's all relative, of course.)
I started to think, as I ran along, that I even partly liked the fact that I had got injured and had been unable to run for a few months, because it meant I could go back a few notches on the progression curve, back to a place where the improvements come more quickly and more easily.
I realise I’ve spent most of my running life semi-intentionally getting out of shape and then getting back in shape again. I’ve followed a regular boom and bust cycle, where I have a project, such as a target race, and I get myself fit, and I feel great, and fast … and then afterwards I let it go. The week off after the race often becomes two weeks, a month, or even longer.
After The Rise of the Ultra Runners I did it again. I put on weight, lost all my fitness. But I didn’t mind or fret, because it meant I’d soon be able to ride that wonderful up-curve again.
In a strange way, as I passed these last two months injured, one of the things I was most looking forward to, once I was cured, was the sense of progression I would feel as I got myself back in shape again.
So on Sunday morning, chugging along beside the canal, I began picking up the pace slightly. Not too much. I didn’t want to rush this. I needed to leave space for more improvements next week, and the week after.
One thing that excites me about the 3,100-mile race, is that I’m going to have to push that curve up further than it has ever gone - at least on the distance axis, if not the speed axis. Hopefully, that lovely feeling of progression will keep on going, taking me into new territory. That’s the plan, at least.
And while this is not THE reason I run, it is another plank in the wonderful, simple, yet somehow complicated, act of running.
Over in the world of elite running, meanwhile, there were a host of fast times across the world this past weekend, but a special nod to Keely Hodgkinson for breaking the British indoor record in the 800m. Talking of progression, as a 19-year-old, she’s probably still at that stage where every new season you step onto the track knowing that you’re going to decimate your PBs. To already be an Olympic silver medalist and be in this mood is scary (for her competitors). I’m excited to see what she will do this year. Her burgeoning rivalry with US 19-year-old 800m sensation Athing Mu (the Olympic gold medalist) should be epic.
At the other end of the spectrum, 40-year-old Camille Herron - another previous guest on my podcast - broke her own 100-mile world record at the weekend. Still riding that progression curve and breaking world records at age 40. You love to see it.