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Why I run

I found myself wondering why it is that – even if I’m forced to take a break because of illness or house renovations or holidays – I seem to return to running again and again. Here’s what I came up with.

Everything comes out during a run. If I’m preoccupied with or worried about something, there it will be, right beside me. And by the end of the run, it’s dealt with. Maybe still there, but I know what I’m going to do about it – or have recognised that I can’t do anything about it. I think it’s call de-stressing. It doesn’t mean the same thing won’t crop up again the next time I’m out there again, because life isn’t as simple as that, is it? But everything looks better after the perspective of a run.

It can be pure ideas time. I could tell you the exact spots along the canal where specific ideas have come to me that have ended up in a scene or a snippet of dialogue. I’ve even worked out the basic plot and character outline for a novel during one 14 mile run. Nowadays if I’m struggling with a scene that doesn’t work, I just throw my sandals on and go for a run. By the time I get back, it’s sorted. Walking works as well, but running seems to get me there faster (in both senses of the word).

Sometimes, it’s just an excuse for a break. There are times when I forget to eat lunch (and then wonder why I’m feeling so hungry at four). If I know I’m going for a run, I also know I’ll get out of the house. And eat. And when this is your reading pile for the week, you really need a break sometimes:

Some runs are simply beautiful. Others are just a hard slog, but I forget about them soon enough. Yesterday, I had to drop Abbi off at school for a class trip so I decided to do a 16 mile run along the canal while I was there. Normally I don’t get beyond Ratho (seven miles out), and there are several miles of stillness and rarely a sign of life along the stretch leading up that part of town, but this time I kept going and it was like being in a different country. Walled gardens, low-hanging trees, a winding towpath and the peaceful water of the canal all the way. Years ago I had to do a ridiculously early run through Berlin before catching a flight, and I can still remember running through the deserted streets as the sun rose, then running under the Brandenburg Gate with not a single tourist in sight. But probably my best experience was running along the main road near our house and seeing a deer on the other side of the fence, running along beside me for a few seconds. Some runs you might even describe as spiritual.

The other reason is far less lofty. You can measure it. And your performance is down to you. Of course there are many others who help you (even us rank amateurs) but at the end of the day, when you go out there for a run, and especially for a race, it’s down to you. Sometimes ‘performance’ really doesn’t matter. I can just run for the fun of it (another reason I run!). If I’m not training for a race, I can forget splits and times quite happily. But if it’s full-on training for a race, it’s both a physical and a mental challenge. And that marathon – it’s not 26 miles. It’s not even 26.2 miles. It’s 24 miles plus about 10 more tagged on the end they didn’t tell you about. Every time I think to myself, get to 24 miles then kick hard. It works every time. Until I get to mile 24 and I think, how about I just keep going and get over the finish line without being sick, collapsing or deciding this was a terrible idea and even if I walk the rest of the way, I won’t be last and what does it really matter anyway? So I keep going and it really does feel like another ten miles later and, no matter what my watch says, it feels like I’m barely moving forward, but then the finish line comes and it was all worth it again. I won’t have been first, and I won’t have been last, so beyond that, all that matters is whether I did my best on the day.

You didn’t think running was about getting fit, did you?

Finding time

Last week’s Guardian included an article on the challenge of finding time to read, including examples of professional book readers who seem to be facing this issue. I didn’t know there were jobs where you really were paid to read – ah, it turns out you have to do something else, like edit the books or critique them, so actually my dream job doesn’t exist after all. I can, however, certainly relate to the problem of finding time to read. I’ve mentioned before that one solution is audiobooks, which currently gets me a good hour of reading time a day and has the other advantage of avoiding at least some of the Punch and Judy show that we call the General Election. But it’s not a substitute for sitting down and reading until it’s a few hours after you really should have gone to bed, but you just want to know what happens next, what your favourite character is going to do… and never mind the consequences on the next day’s productivity.

Apparently, reading a book instead of watching television doesn’t work in freeing up time to read. From experience, I can’t see why it doesn’t. It was the first thing to go in my case, following the Groucho Marx adage of

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

(I confess that I got the ‘exact’ wording from the internet, where there appears to be a range of possible combinations of words used, which I hope in fact reflect something he did write or say, but even if he didn’t, I like the sentiment.)

And the other ‘traditional’ solution of always having a book with you appears to have mixed reviews. When I do have a book with me, I find that there are always opportunities to use otherwise unproductive time to read it – walking about town on an errand (watch for lampposts that jump out at you), waiting for someone, even walking to or from your car. But what that doesn’t give us is the immersive experience of being in a different place, a different time, a different person’s head. We can sometimes just dip in and out.

Credit to Penguin books, though. They’ve brought out a series of ‘Little Black Classics’ at the attractive price of 80p (and no, Amazon aren’t cheaper than your local book shop).


Please note the themed Easter tablecloth…

I was more than a little impressed by the selection and quality of the books they included. When the summary of some of the stories includes ‘Kafka’s favourite story’, ‘considered by James Joyce to be the world’s greatest story’, ‘three short stories by the modern master of the form’, ‘transformed the modern world and still shapes millions of lives today’, the chances are they are worth reading. They are also relatively short – perfect for the odd moments when we can snatch some reading time. But you still need hours on end for the full length novels.

I have a little card lying around that I picked up from a local bookshop a few years ago – “Eat. Sleep. Read.” If only.