Over Christmas, when my leg was hurting and I was taking some time off from running to focus on my other favourite endurance sport of ultra mince pie eating, I read Born to Run. If you are even vaguely interested in running, or even if you’re not, Born to Run is a book that you should probably read. Author Chris McDougall traces the mysterious Tarahumara tribe, who live in the canyons of Mexico and are reportedly the best ultra runners in the world. There is a part in the book where McDougall is talking about fabled American ultrarunner Ann Trason and he says this –
“[She] insisted, running was romantic; and no, of course her friends didn’t get it because they’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.”
As somebody who likes to take their baths at a temperature usually more akin to somewhere between hell and the sun, that paragraph really spoke to me. The book also talks about running easy and running light and, as I sat there nursing my injured leg, swaddled in my mum’s new fleecy blanket and brushing pastry crumbs from my lap, I vowed to adopt these principles as soon as I was back on the trail. I knew the secret now! I just needed to ease into it!
Those grand intentions probably lasted for about half a mile once I returned to the coast path, then I went flying in an enormous slick of mud and got distracted by the prospect of my next cake stop. I forgot all about being easy and light and started struggling against running again.
You might also remember that I wrote this blog post boldly announcing that “I hereby vow to run up at least one monster hill every day”. Unsurprisingly, that fell by the wayside too, which I don’t feel too bad about given that the hills of Devon and Cornwall really were just so steep and so slippery. The point remains though: it was me against the run. I regularly loved the fight, finding it truly exhilarating and and satisfying and sadistically enjoying the challenge, but it was a fight nonetheless. I was finishing each successful day thinking, “yeah, I conquered that,” and ending every disappointing day accepting that, “yeah, that beat me today”.
Last week, I found myself completely lacking in motivation. I ambled around the coast of Lancashire, pitched my tent twice, drank a lot of coffee and eventually made it to Cumbria. Last night, having been unable to muster the energy to do anything except walk a very, very slow fifteen miles to Ulverston, I ate a large bowl of pasta, put myself to bed early and promised myself that tomorrow would be different. Chris McDougall’s words about easing into the run drifted back into my mind and, this morning, I decided it was finally time to try and put them into practice.
I followed the country roads down to Barrow-in-Furness and they were undulating as they skirted around the Lake District. When the uphills came, instead of either stopping or fighting, I tried to let my legs just carry on moving forwards. I imagined that I was riding a bike. Get into your lowest gear, and just keep on turning. Don’t look up. Pretend it’s not even a gradient, pretend you’re just slowly churning away on dead flat ground, until that moment when you finally, finally reach the crest of the hill and you turn the pedals one more time and then you’re coasting down the other side, breathing an audible sigh of relief.
And it worked. Running was really fun today. My legs said yes and my head said yes too. Maybe you can fight for a few miles, but I don’t know if you can do it for ten months. I’m gladly retreating from the battlefield, hanging up my sword and entering into a peace treaty instead.
If you enjoyed reading this and you are feeling generous, it would make my day if you would consider donating to my chosen charities Young Minds and Beyond Food. You can do so here – http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/runthecoast