I bumped into a friend of mine today, and she asked me whether I was still running. Of course I was, I answered. She said that as I hadn’t talked about it for quite some time, she had assumed that I had stopped. She then started explaining to me what her training plan for her next race was, what her PBs were, and how she was intending to improve her times.
That was when it dawned on me: I was an average runner. I didn’t really care about PBs, and I just wanted to run in the most beautiful places on earth, but running fast (or even simply faster) wasn’t my main priority. My last marathon was in Vancouver, and I had a great time because I ran along the Pacific ocean. After running the two-oceans marathon in Capetown in 2016, I felt privileged to run in Vancouver, along another ocean. It was my ‘third ocean race’ and I was living the dream! She asked me what my time had been. I couldn’t remember it exactly, and gave a ballpark figure. She was surprised. She remembered all her times. I didn’t. I remembered the runners next to me, how I felt after two hours and the strength of the wind, but not my exact time. ‘Why don’t you check on the website?’, she asked. It hadn’t crossed my mind. I didn’t need my exact time to know that I had enjoyed the marathon.
Obviously I love running in a good time (which athlete doesn’t?), but, simply put, it isn’t my priority. I run for the experience, and, to me, humans are evolved to run long distances. It’s the most natural thing in the world to do. This is why I am never as happy as when I run along a river for 50k or more. It’s my thing. It’s therapeutic. It makes me feel alive.
The joy of running in Oz: beware of snakes!
Of course I do the occasional 5k, 10k half marathon or marathon. It’s part of my training, and I have to keep in shape. But between you and me, I find races a bit boring. I often feel out of place. Other runners have better running gears, better shoes and better iPods (I don’t listen to music when I run). To jazz it up, I sometimes run to the race venue, and run back home (That’s my excuse for my slow times, you see). It’s all part of my ‘tempo training’. But what I really enjoy is going into a walk/run routine in as remote a place as possible, because I can keep going for quite a long time.
Needless to say, I have never won a race. I am not an elite runner, and I probably never will be one. As for my shoes, well, you would probably tell me to buy a new pair, but I don’t want to. New trainers give me blisters, you see, and my old trainers feel so good. When, as I do, you run very long distances, the devil is in the details. I tend to run with the same old worn-out tops and shorts, because I know that there won’t be any surprises (i.e. chaffing). You don’t want to try anything new on the day of an ultra marathon anyway.
I don’t understand the craze for the latest protein shake, running bar or magic shoes. The shop around the corner charges a £100 fee to assess the type of running shoes that would be best for you. £100! But the shoes don’t do the running for you, do they? I think I’ll stick to my old pair of trainers. We get along so well, a bit like an old couple really. When I go for a long run, I might take some water and dates, dried apricots or figs. That’s it. I like to keep things simple. Of course I have tried to have some running gels, and I must say that it helped my sprinting skills a lot, as I ended up having to rush to the loo. Sometimes I cheat a bit: I stop for a quick meal in a country pub, a coffee or (ahem) a glass of wine (I find that drinking before a race kills the legs, but during is fine). After all, when you are running very long distances, who cares if you have a bit of a rest along the way? I certainly don’t. It’s part of the experience. And as long as I am faster than the (very generous) cut off times for ultra marathons, I am fine. And I’ll keep running.
Running is the only thing that can properly clear my head. Running is a personal experience. And if I don’t recognise myself in the usual categories of runners, who cares? I’ll do it my way. I am an average runner, and I just love it. And if it makes me happy, it can’t be that bad, right? What about you, what type of runner are you?