mundane adventures in running
I have been surprised by a couple of things I’ve read recently which seem to slightly go against the grain of what running means to me. Richard Askwith, the author of the book Feet in the Clouds has just brought out a new book, Running Free, not to be confused with the quite enjoyable and philosophically very similar Run Wild, by Chumbawamba guitarist and running enthusiast Boff Whalley.
Given that Askwith is a journalist at the Independent, it’s no wonder that the book has received a fair amount of coverage. A fair few people have kindly sent me links to some of the reviews and puff pieces.
I have yet to read Askwith’s book itself, but have been intrigued, inspired and irritated in equal measure by the articles I’ve read about it: intrigued because he seems to have something interesting to say about the subject of running, and particularly the commercialisation of running culture and the exploitation of its practitioners by nefarious corporations; inspired because he talks about running long distances through mud and wind and rain, up hill and down dale; irritated because in reviews of the book and his own pieces about it, he seems to prescribe a correct way to run. It’s something that comes out to a lesser extent in Boff’s book as well: if you buy all the gear, you’re not enjoying an authentic running experience; if you only run marathons, you’re not enjoying an authentic running experience; if you do anything apart from run barefoot (in a £100 pair of vibram five fingers, I might add) through the moors dressed in cheap cotton, you’re some how missing the point.
Obviously, I need to read the whole book to genuinely have an opinion; I am aware that right now I’m talking out of my hat. I’m fairly convinced there are going to be huge parts of it that I agree with, or even love. My concern is that when you start knocking things like Park Run, or Marathon running, the idea of runnings as therapy, or even the solace that some people find in buying stuff they probably don’t need, you start to turn running into an exclusive club, something with a set of rules you have to subscribe to. Then it stops being the wonderful, natural thing everyone could, and dare I say it, should enjoy. It’s quite paradoxical: by forcefully advocating natural running, Askwith risks alienating the novices who want the gentleness of Park Run, the societal approval of training for a marathon, the reassurance of a posh pair of trainers, and bars their way to ever getting of the beaten track, running barefoot through the mountains.
Running should be for everyone, and telling people they’re doing it wrong seems a bit mean.
Anyway, read more: Askwith’s own article about his book can be found here, along with my reply to the article, also copied below for completeness. Also worth reading is the review here, particularly for the comments by angry Park Run enthusiasts at the bottom of the article.
I use a heart rate monitor. I have been seeing an osteopath for the last four months. I currently run in a pair of trainers which cost £80. I have a foam roller. I use compression socks (although i am not convinced). As well as all the old, comfy but smelly and unpleasant running gear i have, i also have some stuff which is presentable enough to wear on the school run.
I don’t think i’m a mug for buying this stuff, any more than i think you’re a mug for buying vibram five fingers or using gels for races. each to their own.
Running is, as you point out, a big sport. Fortunately there’s enough space for you and for me, and for Vibram, Nike Free, Tuff Muddah, hash harriers, usain bolt and the long distance walkers association. The only thing there’s not room for is people who are elitist and judgmental and start trying to define what ‘proper’ running is to the exclusion of others.
Damnably, i am now going to have to read the whole book to have an opinion. troll.