Chris Creegan

Comment | Ideas | Opinion

In praise of Running

by Chris on 26th April 2013

Running

Ever since I started this blog I knew I’d eventually get round to writing about running. It’s been one my life’s enduring passions. On the things that matter to me scale it’s up near the top. And the experience of running in last Sunday’s London marathon finally propelled me to blog.

Reflecting on the day (while out running of course!) I got thinking about why running is so special to me and three things in particular stood out: individual endeavour, social solidarity and voluntarism.

Running is good for you. Of course you risk injury and strain. But on balance it’s good for your physical health. And it’s pretty good for your mind too. That’s not just because we know physical exercise is good for mental well being. It’s also because for many of us running has a particular way of putting you in touch with your state of mind.

This has been most compellingly described by Sakyong Mipham in his book Running with the Mind of Meditation. Sakyong explores how tapping into the present during physical activity can make us stronger, more radiant and resilient. And the book is a wonderful exploration of why running is so well suited to helping us do that.

It’s that resilience which relates to the first of my three themes, individual endeavour. I started running at secondary school. I wasn’t much interested in football and I was the wrong shape for rugby. But real boys did sport.

And so at an all boys’ school in the early 1970s that wasn’t much help to my social standing. Determined not to be left out I took up running. I wasn’t much good at first but with training I gradually became a solid and dependable runner in what was a pretty successful school team.

In those early years, running taught me of the value of my own endeavour. I was supported by teachers and encouraged by peers, but ultimately it was down to me. As I trained harder I got better. As I got better I felt pride. And with pride came mutual respect with my peers. The latter was a powerful antidote to the awkwardness of my teenage years.

It was that respect which was an early indicator of the social solidarity I’ve experienced as a runner. Whether running for my school or later for a club, people were always supportive. And I was reminded of that this week when I met up with running mates to chew the fat after the marathon.

In many ways running is the most individual of sports. You’re out there on your own. It’s your physical effort alone which will get you across the line. No one else can do it for you. And yet for all that I don’t think there’s a sport with a greater sense of team spirit.

Other runners know what that endeavour feels like. And it’s that shared experience which is at the heart of the social solidarity you’ll find in running clubs everywhere. It’s a solidarity that transcends age, gender and ability. And perhaps the most remarkable exponents of that solidarity are running club coaches.

When I started running more seriously again last year I joined Edinburgh Athletic Club. It’s been a brilliant way of connecting with people in my home city after years working away every week. But by far the most striking thing has been the support of the coaches, in my case one in particular. I can remember being similarly supported at my first club, Sale Harriers, in the late 1970s.

These people aren’t paid. They turn out night after night. They turn out snow or shine. They listen to your fears, support your ambitions and comment on your plans. They don’t discriminate; no matter who you are or how good you are, the only thing that matters to them is that you love running and want to try.

Voluntarism has become one of the bywords of the big society we live in today. If you want to know how it works you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the true spirit of voluntarism than down at your local running club.

Special thanks to my training partners through the long, cold and dark winter – particularly Emma, Hannah, Karen, Andy, Nigel and Eddie. And most of all thanks to Alex, a great coach.

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