Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Run Away!

There's a day for everything these days. Or if it's not a day it's a week. Sometimes people go mental and have a whole month dedicated to something. And if it's really, really special, like potatoes, then the entire year is dedicated to it. Don't tell me you missed out on the International Year of the Potato in 2008. You did? Shame.

Today the celebration / awareness raising is for running. That thing you do where you walk but, well, faster. I think this umbrella terms includes all forms of running, including sprinting and jogging, but perhaps it's just running - for the three are different you see. Joggers are plodders and don't go beyond their comfort zones. There's nothing wrong with that, it's important to be out doing any exercise, but I bet most don't run into the Zone of Discomfort and stay there in order to try and improve times and so forth. They shouldn't have to if they don't want to neither. That would be like some form of fitness dictatorship. Sprinters, by there very nature, are not really runners, in that they just use up all their energy over 100m, 200m, 400m or, at a push, 800m. Don't me wrong. It's massively impressive. But it's sprinting, not running.

No, to be a runner, you have to be going between 1km and 26.2 miles, running at a pace that is teetering on the edge of the Zone of Discomfort (ZOD), or in it, for as long as possible. When I trained for the marathon, I was a jogger, with occasional forays into the ZOD for races, or mid-week runs (note, runs), but mostly I jogged. Now, post-marathon, I am a runner. I keep running fast, too fast sometimes, and have this weird urge to constantly beat the clock (as a gameshow host might say) and every other runner I see. Petty I know.

Meeting Brendan Foster

It's all a bit futile really. You can't beat time, or Chronos himself, and I'll never be an Olympic gold medal winner. Indeed, when I started my marathon training I secretly hoped that perhaps I would discover a latent talent for marathon running that would culminate in me running to gold and glory at London 2012 and retelling my story: 'Well it all started in 2008 when I got a place in the London Marathon...and here I am now Brendan!' (Brendan Foster, the former runner turned BBC presenter - it's just the person I imagine interviewing me in the fantasy.)

However, 4 hours 22 minutes and one second after starting the London Marathon, this dream was shattered. Exhausted. Bent double in pain and in a trance-like state of tiredness. Sadly, I will not be winning any golds for Great Britain in 2012. Sorry everyone.

Nevertheless, I continue to run, or now run, not jog, and have found myself with some bizarre fixation on completing a 10km in sub 45 minutes. Perhaps because my three previous 10km have all been 47m and what's two minutes? Turns out it's quite a lot as I've been finding out trying to train towards this. This Saturday will be the fourth 10km - Richmond - and we'll see how I get on.

I hate spiders, I don't eat chilis, but...

Back to running and more precisely, National Running Day. The thing is (and while running is not for everyone, in the same way bungee jumping, spider holding, or chili eating is not for everyone - like me), it's something people should try or think about trying, with an open mind about their own abilities and what they can get out if it.

Because the human body is actually one of the greatest running machines on the planet. Perhaps the best. It can sprint, run or jog over short, medium and ridiculously long distances. A marathon is small fry in comparison to what the human body can do, especially if it has to. There's a book called 'Survival of the Fittest' I've just started reading that makes the very interesting, and yet obvious point, that thousands of years ago humans, male and female, young and old, had to be able to run - both distance to catch prey or move around, and sprinting, to escape predators, or, again, catch prey. We evolved to be able to do these things and it helped us become the dominant species. Brains and thumbs would also like me to point out their help in this - okay guys, noted.

It's all your fault Brian. Hey, sneaky. No, it is your fault brain.

But, brain, you've also caused a problem. By helping us evolve and become intelligent, you allowed us to create technology, and domesticate animals, and build food processing facilities, and burger joints - all things that allows us to eat, drink and be merry, without having to exert barely any energy. So while our bodies remain stuck in the past, our society is forever pushing forward. We think we don't need to run, or even worse, that we can't. We can, we've just forgotten how.

The point is running is actually one of the most natural things for a human to do. It keeps us fit (ready to run away from sabre tooth tigers, or yoofs with knives), it helps us catch prey (like, er, chickens? and catch people who've robbed us) and it staves off diseases (from the humble cold to heart problems).

So, although today's National Running Day is just another in the plethora of events that come and go and barely register on the radars of people who are not already interested in the day that's being promoted, it is at least worth considering running as an activity to partake in. Or at the very least, enjoy the fact you have a body that, theoretically, has been able to - and continues to be able to - overtake or outlast almost all other beings on the planet.

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