Learn to Love Running

Author Richard Askwith shares his tips

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When Running Free: A Runner's Journey Back to Nature, £16.99 [Yellow Jersey] landed on the ELLE Running Club's desk we stopped and took notice, leafing through the pages eagerly. Why were we so quick to take a look through? Well, as much as we love running, the organising of races, the multiple trainers we speak to, the early morning runs in the dark, well they had taken a little of the, dare we say it, fun and spontaneity out of our beloved past time.

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Running isn't all about beating your best times, ensuring you have the best kit and checking your pace every five minutes. The most joyful running experiences the team have had have been escaping the city to run along cliff top beaches or lush countryside.

Here the book's author Richard Askwith reveals how to learn to love running again:

'One thing you’re never short of as a runner is advice. If you want to improve your speed, stamina or resistance to injury, someone, somewhere will have some state-of-the-science tips for you, usually backed up with a high-priced product or two. But one tip tends to get forgotten: enjoy yourself.

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Here are a few things they don’t usually tell you in running shops.

(i) Unless you’re part of the minuscule elite who run for medals, money, records and glory, the only sane reason for running is because it makes you feel good.

(ii) If running feels like a chore, sooner or later you’ll get bored and give it up. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow; but you will. So, the most crucial training tip of all is: don’t let running become a chore.

(iii) Some of the joys of running dwindle with time. As a novice, you improve by leaps and bounds, as you shed the accumulated unfitness of the years. Later, the measurable returns diminish: each tiny improvement requires a mountain of effort. Before you know it, age and boredom kick in as well. If the only thing motivating you is shaving the seconds off your personal best (or the ounces off your weight), you’ll soon have little motivation left. As for the post-run benefits – health, fitness, inner peace etc – you’ll find that they fall off pretty quickly, too, once you’ve given up running (see previous paragraph).

(iv) If you don’t want to get bored of running, focus outwards, not inwards. Never mind your time, your pulse rate, your calories burned, your stride length – what’s going on in the world around you? Look: it’s almost spring. Flowers are blooming; there are buds on the trees. If you’re lucky enough to have access to the countryside, as I do, there are lambs in the fields, too, and thrilling new colours in the hedgerows. Even in urban parks, the grass feels warm and springy underfoot – and there’s a background sparkle of birdsong that’s an like intravenous drip of optimism. There is, in short, a whole world for the runner to explore – not necessarily on the same pavement you pound every day. Do yourself a favour: explore it.

(v) If you want to race, there’s no rule to say that the only way to do so is in a mass-participation road-race with timing chips, goody-bags and a hefty entrance fee. Check out some of the alternatives – trail-running, fell-running, obstacle racing, orienteering – even cheese-rolling. Some might involve getting muddy, wet, or lost. So what? If you find a challenge that thrills you, you’ll barely notice the discomforts.

That’s what matters about running: the fact that it’s a joy and a privilege to be able to do it at all – not the fact that you’re a few hundredths of a second away from being the world’s 312,887th-best 10k runner.

Of course you’ll sometimes want to push yourself to your limits. That’s one of the things that make running so satisfying. But for 99.9 per cent of us a hundredth of a second one way or another doesn’t make the blindest bit of difference – whatever the running industry may tell us about the vital importance of kitting ourselves out like Olympians.

Running is now one of the world’s fastest growing industries: worth getting on for £16.5bn a year. Yet human beings have been running, for necessity and pleasure, for tens of thousands of years; spending money has only become part of the process in the past 50. A child doesn’t need special training or equipment to discover the joy of running for fun, any more than a dog or a horse does. Why should you?

My own little tip for runners seeking fresh motivation for 2014 is simple. If you’re lucky enough to have cash to spend on your running habit, buy a compass and a local Ordnance Survey map, not a pair of new trainers – and keep what you save for a big night out.

My big tip is simpler still. Never mind the hi-tech kit. Never mind the stats and the science. Never mind “marginal gains” or “peak performance”. Just remind yourself that running is one of life’s great free gifts – like natural beauty, music, poetry, sex and laughter. If it doesn’t bring you joy, you’re missing the point.

And if it does bring you joy, then, as the months fly by, you’ll find soon enough that, without your even having noticed, you’ve got faster and fitter as well.'

Richard Askwith is author of “Running Free: A Runner’s Journey Back to Nature” (Yellow Jersey, £16.99).

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