(Previouly published in the Royston Runners Dec. 2011 Newsletter.)
This column is going to be fairly widespread in the subjects covered, dealing with running and fitness issues and other stuff coming out of my interests in the countryside, walking, food self-sufficiency, healthy living etc. Then again I might write something completely unrelated.
For example: first off a joke from Germany (yes they have jokes) – as a parent this touched my funny bone. A couple have a child and for the first five years of his life he says absolutely nothing. They take him to see various specialists who can find nothing wrong. Then one day at lunch the family are eating their pudding and out of the blue he says: ‘Mother this strudel is a little tepid’. ‘You spoke!’ they cry. ‘Well’, he replies, non-plussed, ‘Up till now everything has been acceptable.’
As some will know I have not been running with the club since September because of an achilles tendon injury. I am due for an ultra sound scan soon, which might give me a better idea of the problem – which has been recurring at regular intervals all through my running years. Question is what to do when you are no longer running three times a week up to 25 miles or so? That leaves quite a hole in your fitness routine and your lifestyle. The answer is to do something else. I wanted to keep a level of fitness and work the tendon in a mild way both to restore flexibility and strength. So I have been out walking around South Cambs., building up time spent on feet and distance covered.
It seems to have helped. My achilles is no longer aching after activity. I have tried a couple of short 30 minute runs at slow pace without mishap. What’s more the hard walking has kept my leg muscles strong so that the return to jogging has been very easy. The important thing now is to resist the temptation to run faster and for longer – just build slowly with plenty of recovery time depending on how the injury responds. I am hoping that the ultra sound scan does not reveal some underlying weakness. My other big idea is to do more cross training and not rely solely on running for fitness, especially as I get older and find injuries longer to recover from. My plan is to build up cycling as a longer endurance exercise, do more weights and a bit a swimming, which I have to say I find boring.
Not running for a while has made me appreciate its importance and why I like it and want to get back to it. In evolutionary terms running is what defines us as a species; when we got down from the trees, stood tall on two feet and looked out over the grasslands and decided to go for a run. Hunter- gatherer man and women’s ability to jog for miles after wounded prey ensured the survival of the species. Running is at the heart of our identity, it’s in our nature. It’s a pity only 5% of the population understand this. The majority have lost touch with something that’s truly important.
Running is a very complicated business comprising a multitude of counter-balancing movements, requiring a host of signals to be sent from the brain to different parts of the body. As such it is a very ‘centering’ process, allowing us to find peace of mind out of a harmony of mind and body. This can be a very therapeutic experience as we have all no doubt found; the simple process of repetition of physical actions by the body calming the mind.
More than this when we go for a long run in the country we experience geographical freedom – like a great trek in miniature. There is also the sense of physical freedom, the sense almost of escaping the normal limits of the body, breaking free, whether it be sprinting fast or jogging long. Finally there is the feeling of self-sufficiency – the ability to move efficiently across distances without mechanical aid by our own efforts. All of this builds self-esteem and confidence. So I guess you can say I am looking forward to getting back into my running.
As I write the festive season approaches and then the hard slog through the winter months until spring returns. I have always found running, walking, cycling, any form of outdoor physical activity to be a great way of keeping the blues away, especially when you live in a small village where everybody seems to have gone into hibernation and have hunkered down for the duration. We have been fortunate to have had an extended autumn of fine dry bright weather.
This time last year we had two/three weeks of severe arctic conditions – nothing seen like it for years. I remember running around Royston one Thursday night when the temperature was down to minus 6 degrees, or lower. It was a strange experience – you did not quite believe you were doing it, why you were there. Just because it was Thursday night and there was a club run on, I guess. (Club motto: Royston Runners run in all weather). I felt like Scott’s celebrated Antarctic compatriot, Captain Oates when he said, ‘I’m just going out and may be some time’. I certainly looked like him at the end: gloves and woolly hat on; steam rising from my nose; icicles in my eyebrows and beard; a slightly glazed detached looked in my eyes. We did not stand around talking too long after that run.
This year I am sure Winter will have its way in the end. I am looking forward to the first decent snow. There is nothing like running across country on a fine bright day after it has snowed; cutting the trail for the first time as you leave your footsteps in the snow. Now that’s good running!
Next month: some recommendations of great books about running I’ve read. Also I will start a series of suggestions for good areas to go running off road in South Cambs. and the bordering counties.