It’s not always about speed. Or winning.

Other people’s words about … running (slowly)

I didn’t fight my way across the finishing line — nor did I float. The significance of that marathon didn’t lie in speed or in pain, but in the exchange between my body and the city. I didn’t need a personal best trophy; I could prize the run on its own terms. After many years of early morning runs and all kinds of races, running is to me a way of being, not a way of testing myself against invisible antagonists and not a competition with my peers. I had nothing to vanquish but my doubts, and now — in ways I could never have predicted — running has brought me into a rich communion with the world. It still surprises me. I’m careful not to slip on dirt tracks, and I pay more attention to warnings about overstraining my knees than I used to. I want to avoid injury. I don’t want a show-stopping finish line moment. I want to keep running.

From ‘The Long Run
by Catriona Menzies-Pike

When I (briefly, as it turned out, at least for now) took up running again last year, it wasn’t the thought of speed, or competition, or races, or personal bests, that appealed to me. Nor, God forbid, was it the thought of getting super-fit and toned. Lone beast that I am, it wasn’t the thought of companionship, either: of joining a running team, or running with new friends. I know these are the things that runners often find joy in, but they weren’t drawcards for me.

No, what drew me back to running was what I remembered from the period in my twenties when I ran: how meditative running can make you feel. There is the beat of your heart, the rhythm of your feet, the taking-in and letting-out of your breath. There is the simplicity of moving your feet over the ground, taking you there (wherever ‘there’ is) and back again. There is the joy, afterwards, of feeling reawakened. And alive.

I'm careful not to slip on dirt tracks
I’m careful not to slip on dirt tracks

I suspect that Catriona Menzies-Pike is a kindred spirit. Her whole book, if you care to read it, is an eloquent essay on how running helped to heal the grief she felt for her parents’ untimely death when she was still a child. It is also an exploration of the joys of running slowly — and making the choice to do so. Imagine running, but not forcing yourself to race. Imagine running, but allowing yourself to enjoy the moment rather than the end-result. Imagine running, with no particular aim in mind other than to take the time it takes.


A rich communion with the world
A rich communion with the world

We talk big about fitness these days. We talk about heart-rate and VO2 and pace and gait. We talk about sub-four-hour marathons and heel-striking and foam rollers. We have instruments and apps to help us talk this talk — Garmins and GPS trackers and Apple Watches and the like. (Wait, maybe those instruments created the talk. Have you ever thought that?) So choosing to run slowly, in a world full of talk like this, is tantamount to an act of anti-consumerist, anti-conformist rebellion.

I don’t want a show-stopping finish line moment. Those words apply equally well to life as they do to running, don’t they? There’s another metaphor in the quote above, too. Running, Menzies-Pike says, still surprises me. I get that. I do.

Because life still surprises me. I hope it always will.

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