I’ve realised I’m changing.
Usually I am here, there, everywhere. Racing around, running myself ragged.
And now… now, I am not. I’ve slowed down. I’ve spent more time looking, observing and enjoying what is around me.
These last few weeks have provided me with a deeper appreciation of what running means to me and the elements I can do without.
While I’ve missed some of my running pals, I’ve not missed the amateur distance running culture of relentless racing.
Running is a sport and, at its heart, sport is competitive. It’s not surprising races come into the mix.
But when you start resenting it, it’s time to think hard about what running means to you.
Lately, I have been remembering the reasons why I started running all those years ago. I’d entered a half marathon to keep focused on an end goal but it was during an early morning training run I experienced what running is all about.
As I trundled along a quiet canal path in the crisp early morning sunlight (funnily enough on the same day a race was happening in the city centre), I suddenly felt aware of my body in relation to the world around me. I felt borderline euphoric and completely connected to nature. ‘This is bloody great!’ I thought.
The race came and went. I can barely remember the race in comparison to the experience mentioned, but I entered more to stay motivated. I filled my diary with events; dissecting them afterwards with fellow runners (“fast/tough course! Rubbish/brilliant medal!”)
Somewhere along the line I started to feel differently. I gradually stepped back from events and became tired of explaining why I was not taking part. Equally, I felt conflicted about missing out. A classic case of FOMO.
This may not be a popular opinion, but I’ll say it anyway: as welcoming as the running community can be, it can feel less inclusive when you step off the racing circuit.
During a running hiatus, I witnessed other runners demanding recognition for some feat they had achieved; seeking public acclaim for a sport that’s deeply individual and throwing a strop when virtue signalling merriment wasn’t dished out to their liking.
I wondered: What is it, exactly, that they are looking for?
These last couple of weeks I reflected that question back on myself.
Earlier this year, curiousity led me into racing again. I loved the structure of training; both in terms of the physical and mental fitness it offered and the value it added to my life. I found joy in testing myself in sessions and plotting long runs where I soaked in the natural world. I loved seeing progress.
But race day rolled around and…well, you can read about it here.
Putting it down to a bad day in the office I entered another race.
I did not enjoy it.
So I quit.
I told a marshal I was done, took my race number off, disconnected my Garmin and ran alone.
Being in the moment
The moment I quit, I instantly felt better: like a weight had lifted. I ran to reconnect with nature and myself. I ran because I wanted to, not because a medal, personal best or goody bag was motivating me across the line.
I’ve realised that, in races, I’m not ‘present’. I think about pace, distance, my time – anything but what is around me and the moment I’m in. I don’t like the crowds, the noise, the pressure, the competition. I feel under siege.
In my early days racing absolutely kept me going. I needed the end goal and most probably needed the external validation my achievements mattered too.
That doesn’t matter any more.
For the time being, I’ve decided to stop racing. My focus is to run in beautiful places, continue to push myself as I described in an earlier blog and stay connected to what running offers me physically and mentally.
I dare say this may exile me from the running community – where events and club championship races feature heavily and create shared experiences – and in some ways that makes me a little sad. But I know I’ll stay connected to old allies and perhaps develop new links to runners who seek out the magic and simplicity of running – those canal path moments – and not racing.
As they say, a change is as good as a rest.