Thursday, June 23, 2005

It's the everyday things

Although I have been running since the stress fracture mended, my left leg has never felt quite right. There have been all sorts of aches and twinges just above the ankle and a dull ache along the plantar fascii; however there has been lack of pattern to the aches and I have been unable to tie them to any run or type of activity. As a precaution I have therefore been cautious in mileage, surface and speed – just sort of ticking along really. This does nothing to increase my fitness and I have needed large dollops of faith to believe that everything will be OK in the end.

Now I actually believe things will be all right because I have had one of those blinding eureka moments when another example of my stupidity became clear. The problems are the result of my posture at work, where a large part of the day is spent in front of a computer. Without being aware I have tended to sit for long periods with my legs bent backwards under the seat, on the toes of my left foot with my right ankle resting on my left Achilles. This has stressed my tendons with a passive weight and kept the plantar fascii under tension – not very clever. When this suddenly became clear I stopped. Magically my foot has started to feel easier. I am now making a conscious effort to sit straighter, be more balanced, and keep both feet on the ground in front of me. This must be good.

It only goes to show that not everything on your run is caused by running. What we do throughout the day: how we hold ourselves, how we move, how much we move, all contribute to how we run. If we repeatedly put our body out of balance we will create a weakness that running will magnify because the pounding of running makes it an attritional activity like water on the landscape.

The problem is that most of what we do during the day is habitual and unconscious and it is difficult to be continually aware and know whether we are doing the right thing.

I think I will just have to try harder.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Not a training run

I am not sure whether it shows a healthy state of mind or not but today I have taken a holiday, just so I can do a long run. The weekend will be taken up with a family wedding and running time will be curtailed. So the run had to be today – and I am really glad it was. The temperature was perfect, the trees were beautiful and there was hardly anybody else about.

I have two areas for my long runs: the canal, which I have talked about at length and Ashridge. Today was Ashridge.

“Running across the borders of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire and along the ridge of the Chiltern Hills, this area comprises a series of common-pasture woodlands, chalk downland and commons. Once a medieval deerpark, this estate covers some 5,000 acres. Walkers will enjoy the 16-mile boundary walk or the six shorter self-guided trails. Points of interest include the Monument, built in 1832 in honour of the third Duke of Bridgwater, the pioneer of Britain’s canals, and there’s a visitor centre near here too. A good time to visit the estate is late spring for a dazzling display of bluebells, and you can take in some super views too, if you climb Steps Hill to Ivinghoe Beacon. Look on the estate for a good number of surviving ancient oak and beech trees. Frithsden Beeches is not surprisingly a good area for the latter, whilst Berkhamsted Common and Aldbury Common are good locations for the oaks.” (Woodland Trust)

There are still plenty of deer and this morning two herds crossed my trail. The first time they were just milling about, the path was dappled with sunlight and there was a sense of quietness and peace. I looked at them for a while and then continued; they then ran off but I was smiling.

These moments lift the spirits and it is one of the reasons why I will not describe today as a training run. Training implies that what you are doing is preparation for something else whereas this is what I run for - it is the whole point. It does not mean that I will not put in training miles – there will always be those. It just means there are some days when you realise what the training is for.

Looks like this is another entry in my manifesto for the soft-core runner - except I don't want it to sound as if its written by some bucolic Polyanna.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Running retreat

There is an article in today’s Observer about the growing popularity of retreats that contains:

Adam Phillips, the psychoanalyst and writer, is not surprised by the growing popularity of retreats: 'People are aware of having too many external stimuli. What do you hear when you stop listening? The question is about whether anyone has an internal world any more.'

This is what running provides. Every week my long run is the equivalent of a retreat, because there is nothing but the movement of the body through space. This can happen automatically – you get into a rhythm and the body takes care of itself allowing the mind to be blank or drift onto various topics so that attention can drift. Alternatively there can be full attention and one is aware of how the muscles and breath are working together. In a similar way you have a sense of the space you are moving through, either through having to pay close attention to the ground because when you are off-road you have to be careful where your foot lands or by having a more generalised appreciation of the landscape, which tends to come in and go out of focus.

Through running you discover your animal core and without that I do not believe you can have a complete sense of being. Running is obviously not the only way to do this; yoga, for example, stretches the body to prepare the mind for meditation. I find running a better route because it is simpler, more direct and rhythmic. However I only really get a sense of oneness on long runs. In one of my earlier posts about injury I quoted Joe Henderson saying that when he was not running he really missed the short, nondescript, filler runs. With me that is not the case - I easily drop those. What I miss, and miss with great interior agitation, is the long run and the chance (as it does not happen every time) of getting to the state of sensing the body with an empty mind.

I think this forms part of my manifesto for the soft-core runner. The hard-core runner is deeply wedded to stats and targets, mileage and times (mostly long and short, in that order) but I am soft-core and my objective is the ineffable sense of being a good animal. Through that, eventually I might become a better person. (The might and eventually are heavily underlined in the last sentence).