Submitted by WALK PhD student, Zoe Anderson: Zoe is also an endurance runner and some of the posts on the WALK website will look at areas of overlap, experientially, between walking and running.

‘Let’s go down by the river, it will be nice in the evening sun’

These were the words of my running partner, during a particularly long run many years ago.

We had a few hours still to run that day and I was the navigating; thus pondering a route choice of up through the forest on typical stony tracks and over the hill or around.  The trouble was that the British Military and set the grid references for this epic event and some were quite dubious…

All this happened over twenty years ago and at the time, and for many years to come, I though it was a pretty dumb thing to say and not at all useful in my quest to navigate us along the correct route.

Twenty + years later I’ve come to smile, and perhaps understand Steve’s rationale a little better.

True: it has had its appeal; but was it the right way.

Two things constantly strike me between the eyes / questions get asked of me.  Firstly, the ‘Why do you run / type of question … and secondly, people genuinely think I run obsessively, perhaps every day and expect me to reel of mileage and times, and schedules.

Well I stopped doing that a very long time ago.  Looking back on Steve’s immortal words I now know he was right.  Whether his route was the correct way didn’t really matter, after all, if it was wrong we could always amend our route and still reach the required destination.

For many years, I often re-told the scenario whilst teaching navigation on our courses. This was during the early days, and each navigation leg should have a plan, a strategy…even a ‘start, middle and end’ in order to get efficiently from A – B

I came to like that fact that Steve’s decision-making logic did have a reason behind, and we weren’t just heading blindingly in the wrong direction unwittingly.  It would be a conscious choice …

On the subject of mileage, I’ve never cared, nor bothered unduly about times, and but the feel of the race or run is so important.

I used to say that I still wanted to run a ‘good’ marathon; one where it felt good and I was strong throughout, not just physically but mentally as well.  A marathon where you just felt right from start to finish, and beyond.  This is not about times and pb’s but about being …  dare it say it ‘at one with yourself’, happy that you’ve crafted and experienced, and hence enjoyed a productive run.  Are very well satisfied.

Over my long running career I’ve realised that the route I’ve run and the races I’ve encountered are varied in the extreme.  There are a few I’ve done, where I won’t do again, as they just aren’t good courses. Why? The simple reason is that the course, the atmosphere, the feel, ebb and flow of the whole situation is simple unpalatable with what I want.

Ok, so I’ve raced some crazy races; the most painful was a short ‘up and down’ Guides race; a vicious steep fell race, where I sacrificed every ounce of every type of energy both up and down the hillside.  It was the only race where I ended up a heavy, sweaty, snotty mess lying on the floor, wracked in pain and oxygen debt with lactic acid screaming through my legs and body.  I really had given it my all.  Being a distance runner, my fellow club runners and peers often told me I seemed to be ‘jogging’ and not sprinting, running as hard as they might.  That particular day I had found myself locked in behind a very good runner, my nose close to his backside and with the thought, ‘this is as hard as I’ve ever gone, Fuck, this hurts, this is good … and Chris is a demon descender so stay on his tail’

Thus at the turn around I throw caution to the wind and my legs and body into a scary descent with so much adrenaline running I was high on racing by the end.

But still this was not about a time, a distance, this was just about me being in and extreme environment, and environment in which I was so gloriously happy that I did not want to it to end, even though I was at a peak of pain, even ecstasy.

The total environment of that race involved quite a small ‘bubble’; me, the fell-side, Chris’s feet; me, gravity and space.

Very quickly over the years, I came to appreciate that a good race, run, or longer event, must have a good course.  Contrived or manufactured routes detract from the experience. They dilute the relationship between you and the run.  Even the first and last few hundred metres, out through the streets..

… the first few minutes of any run are often the most uncomfortable and painful. My body is cold, stiff and creaky. There is no flow to my movement and I’m very self-conscious of my surroundings.  The first few minutes are often via less attractive scenario, streets, and alleys ways before you exit into the ‘great outdoors’ and out into the ‘run-sphere’.

But those initials feelings and those early painful strides and part of the process that immerses us in the/our environment.  It is how we react and interact with all that around us, that is important.  But all that is around us is a very vicarious issue. The body’s senses are used and de-tuned by everything around us, but equally we must have choice, and it’s a conscious decision as to what we take in and what we leave out.

Back to those crazy races; If the death by glory fell race as the shortest and hardest I’ve done, it is one of my longer ones in which I can vividly remember so much of my immediate surroundings in quite bizarre detail.  The race that gave me such an experience was a continuous ‘track race’ of many hours, simply circling around a 400metre running track …  So, how can this be good and wholesome with the environment?

Despite being many years ago, I remember in great detail the patterns within the green and grey asphalt surface, the swirls of decay, the smells around the track, natural, man-made, food, the changes in temperature from warm Australian sunshine to the cold of early dawn and the re-warming of the day by the rising sun.  The in-congruence of the sun’s rays, as I felt colder through dawn and the rise and fall of the trees, birds and small animals though this day/night experience.

I remember, and embrace, the flow of energy and pain within my legs. The conversations between me as a runner and me

as…

As runners we go some way to create our environment.