By BR Staff Writer Kate Kift
[This post is a follow-up to Kate's post "What is a Runner?" -editor]
I was once running on a easy trail around my bit of the world, headphones on, chilling out, when a man on the boardwalk motioned to me. I went over to him and he spent the next 10 minutes showing me a rare type of heron that was fishing in the tide. He turned around to me and commented, “You are the first runner I have signalled this morning that has actually stopped.” His name was Dave and now I make the effort to see him at the end of my morning inlet runs at the Salmon Hatchery. I have learnt so much from him about the inlet and the creatures that live there. He takes time showing me the Salmon fingerlings and I take the time to listen.
His comment struck a cord with me. What would I have missed if I hadn’t stopped? Look at what I I gained just by the simple act of stopping. Instead of ignoring him and running right past him, I decided that seeing what he had to say was possibly just as important as my 5K run. It reminded me, what “I” think a runner should be. I think we all need to change the current definition.
The Current Thinking
We all know a runner; either they are a member of our family, or a friend, or a colleague, or perhaps all three. Heck, they may even be us. We all have associations in our head about what a runner should be. He is covered head to toe in black lycra and wears compression shorts that are so tight it would make a normal man wince. They put strange protein “stuff” on their cereal that tastes like cardboard and looks like it came from a endangered creatures’ bottom. They may continually extoll the virtues of a bizarre diet that increases.. well, something biological. You walk into their hall-way and they have a basket full of running shoes that all smell. They live by a training plan, where they have no Sunday mornings to kick back and relax. He has a watch that beeps at him every 2 mins and he can chart his mileage to the nearest centimetre. They are so focused on an end goal that is months away, that any little setback is accompanied by such lamentation you would think we had entered the next ice age and all he got in his kit bag was a windbreaker jacket.
I have seen them at races. They trudge through mile after mile, with such a look of pain and misery on their faces,it seems as if they had elected to go through some new form of torture. They have measured their walk breaks, their GU shots and their hydration plan to the minutest detail that they could probably tell you the precise second they would take a stop in the woods for a pee. Their ONLY goal is to get to the end. The only thing they are focused on is numbers; pace, mileage and finish times.
I know my description above is extreme and we ALL have traits of this type of person. I am not decrying this type of runner. I may even be one in part – despite my attempts to be a “Non-runner”; the lycra and smelly shoes parts of the description are true of me anyway. This runner has focus and determination. They have goals in their life which they are able to achieve. I am just thinking that maybe we need to re-evaluate what’s important.
My definition of the perfect runner
Run IN your environment. The perfect runner doesn’t run THROUGH his environment, but run’s IN it. They use the run as a way of experiencing the things he see’s, smells, feels in the most heightened way possible. The chemical changes that happens in the body during a run aren’t a temporary rush, but a conduit to get more in touch with the world we live in. Running isn’t a means to an end, it’s a way of disconnecting from the modern world and re-connecting to our primal self.
Don’t concentrate on the numbers. There is no mileage, or pace or finish time. You just pick a spot to run to and you run until your legs ache and your heart pounds. As you run, you pay attention to every detail; touch the tree’s, see the creatures, feel the mud under your feet. If you feel good, run further. If the run just isn’t coming together, quit and come back another day.
Stop. Stop occasionally. Don’t be so focused on the end, that you don’t take the time to reflect on what you see. Stop to talk to people. Stop to hear the birds. Stop to see the view. Stop to feel the wind on your face. Just occasionally stop.
Smile. Grin, giggle, laugh, act the fool, all of the above. The perfect runner should be grinning at the beginning of a race, laughing in the middle and have a huge smile of achievement at the end. The whole race should be a celebration of the fact that you ARE able to run. You have this body which can move so efficiently and so quickly, that if you believe the anthropologists, your ancestors could out-run their food. Rejoice in that. You are damn lucky.
Understand what type of runner you are and accept it. This isn’t easy. Sometimes we push ourselves to be the runner we WANT to be, or we feel is expected, at the expense of the runner we are destined to be. Last year I set myself lots of goals; I wanted to run faster, further and longer than I had the year before. The races I had planned where large and crowded. As this year progressed, my life took twists and turns I hadn’t expected. My goals lapsed, but as a consequence I discovered the runner I wanted to be. I no longer want to run 50 miles on a boring road. I don’t want to be pushed and shoved as I go. I now know, I am a trail runner; as soon as I am on a trail, my heart lifts. I like running half-marathons; it just seems the right distance for me. One I can achieve with the time I have available and a distance I can run without getting injured. I like small races or running with small groups. These types of races and runs bring me joy. I have accepted that and now my mid-week run’s aren’t tainted by trying for a goal I don’t actually want to achieve.
Be respectful. Be polite to the people you meet – take time to talk and hear. Thank those that have helped you on your journey. Tread lightly as you run, other creatures have to tread the same path. Don’t pollute or litter or damage your path. One day you may want to run this path again and you would want it to be as beautiful then as it is now.
Encourage others. At the end of the race, go back on the course and cheer the rest of the field on. Even if you are the first person to cross the line, then be the last to leave. Every person you cheer on will be encouraged by your efforts. Even though the cheer you give will be fleeting as far as you’re concerned, to the people still on the course it will mean the most because you made the time. Slow down and pace someone who needs the support. This maybe your hundredth race, but to the person next to you, it maybe their first. Your smile maybe just enough to put their fears and doubts to rest.
Realize that running is a pleasure NOT a job. There are very few of us that actually run for a living. We all have other jobs; the way to bring the money in. We should NEVER lose fact that running is a past-time. It’s something we do for pleasure. We shouldn’t be so focused on our training plan, that a little set-back either through injury or life leads to feelings of disappointment. This is a hard thing to achieve; we all like to drive ourselves; see how far we can go. We should prioritize where running fits into our life. It shouldn’t come before family or friends. We should use running as a way of connecting with those important in our lives. What is better? A 5K run with our kids on a Sunday, or a 30K solo training run for a marathon? If running is a burden or an interference then what’s the point?
I am not sure if the perfect runner is an un-attainable ideal. It’s possibly just as hard to change your thinking as it is to run the marathon you had planned. However, I think it’s worth it. I struggle sometimes, but it’s nice to have these simple rules in my heart when I am becoming disillusioned with my runs. A reminder about what’s important; why running in my life is important. There is a certain joy that comes over me, when I run the perfect run -when I have managed to achieve the above. It’s even more joyous when I realize that the perfect run had NOTHING to do with what I was wearing or what technology I had strapped to me. That for me, being the perfect runner only cost me a little bit of personal reflection.