The Pleasure of Running

When I say I run for pleasure some people know what I mean but most people look at me as if I am a bit crazy. For them it is a painful task that must be completed to feel good afterwards and keep them fit. Pleasure doesn’t come into it really. And I do understand. I have had a tough time of running these last few weeks myself where it hasn’t felt so much like fun at all. I have been very tired and my solar plexus (diaphragm and the abs around there) has felt very tight so breathing properly for running hasn’t been so easy. On Friday I even gave up and lay on the ground mid-run (not even a very long one) thinking I was going to be sick. Not fun at all.

But that is not usual for me. And today was WONDERFUL. Whether it was because I have got a better handle on the stressful things that have been a feature of my life recently; whether its because I prepared and taught a particularly good Feldenkrais lesson on breathing yesterday (‘breathing and welding’ for those who know it) and have been working with that tightness for a bit anyway; whether that horrible run – or the three hours of karate I did later in the day – shifted something; whether it was just the lovely weather I don’t know – but I had about ten miles of almost pure pleasure today.

I wasn’t sure how it would be when I set out because Friday had been so bad. I even took money and my phone in case of disaster far from home. I decided to take it very easy and just see how it went and cut it short if it was grim. After a misty start it had turned sunny but there was a delicious cool wind that meant I never got too hot and yet I could enjoy the feel of the sun on my back and the light dancing on my eyes. I ran past hedges of wispy new leaves and over pavaments decorated with early cherry blossom while the London Planes still stood stark and bare against the blue sky. I ran through woods where the first bright green haze was beginning to mist some of the trees. Everyone was out –  people old and young with and without bikes, dogs, kids – and seemingly all with that fresh hopeful spring thing going on. Gradually the slightly sluggish feel I started with wore off. By the time I got to Hampstead Heath I was going easy and from the moment I slipped off my vibrams (shoes!) and tucked them into my belt I was away.

There is something indescribable about running barefoot – if you can do it without discomfort.  I run differently again to how I run in Vibram 5 fingers (which is very different to how I ran in ‘running shoes’) but I am not sure I can put my finger on how. I feel like a kid again and I just run like that – not like a ‘runner’. It feels so free and easy. There are all those wonderfully different sensations under-foot – dewy grass, slightly soft squidgy earth, hard-baked ground, randomly paved and potholed paths, the odd twiggy part and gravelly bit, tarmac. I don’t know if its the way my stride changes or just because I am busy with noticing where my feet will fall but I find myself running much more steadily even with all the funny leaps and dodges I make to find the good bits of ground, completing hills without so much strain and running down them with less impact. I use my gluts and feet differently I think, I take even shorter strides, maybe I am forced to go slower, I don’t know. Sometimes I think I am running faster. I certainly run even softer than I do in vibrams-  which is already noticeably softer than most people I pass. Today my breathing just fell into place – deep and slow and easy – and I felt like I could run for ever (though of course i couldn’t). I got home high as a kite and it stayed with me all day.

Of course running for pleasure has its limitations – I don’t tend to want to run so much in winter or in cold wet weather and yet if I don’t keep it up I begin to miss it and at the same time it gets harder to do again and then I have a less than pleasant metaphorical (and literal) hill to climb to be in shape to enjoy the potentially really good times. But wet weather can be good too. Its hard to set out on a cold, drizzly day but I have had wonderful wild runs splashing through rain, totally soaked, when I get caught out in it by mistake. It has a very elemental, exhilarating feel.

Often the pleasure of a run is a gentler thing than the rush of today. Just a basic pleasure of being outside on my own with that sense of moving through woods and trees and over hills in some way (and yes that is in london – though I love to run along the cliffs in Devon too) fast, slow, easy or not so easy. If you ask me how far I have run and how long it took me I probably won’t know beyond a rough idea from a plot I once did on walk-jog-run out of curiosity. I don’t really care. Its fun to do something further or faster or differently, and variety is helpful in lots of ways so I ring the changes and keep vague tabs but I can’t get that interested in it. I am not planning to train for the Olympics (and I know something about what that’s like because I recently did a set of Feldenkrais lessons for a delightful and very fabulous Paralymic sprinter from the 2012 team and it doesn’t sound like there is a much room for pleasure in that kind of training!) so I am free to run just because mostly it feels good and sometimes – like today – it feels totally fantastic.

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