There are many reasons I run. The most important one to me, and I never thought this would have been the case when I started running, is probably the space it gives me. By space, I don’t mean physical space, although after a long run when I’m dripping with sweat, most people are more than happy to give me a wide berth. What I mean, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with this, is the head space or mental space that takes you out of the daily rush that most of us race through.
I’ve heard some people talk of this as being quiet. That doesn’t mean silent or devoid of noise; you can have quiet whilst listening to some music at full volume. The quiet is more like creating some space that allows for what some people call mindfulness. It’s not a word I’m a big fan of mainly because I think it gets thrown about too easily and used to try and sell things like adult colouring books (which I have no problem with but it’s perfectly possible to colour in a picture and completely fail to achieve mindfulness.) Whether or not you achieve a sense of mindfulness isn’t the issue here. The point is to create the space in which you could be mindful if that’s what you want.
A couple of years ago I went on a course with work which was aimed at inspiring and motivating and helping people to find ways to be a better, more effective version of themselves. I don’t remember most of the course though I do remember one point which the speaker made which really struck a chord. Not enough people eat oranges. Yes, that’s right, if you want to a better version of yourself then eat more oranges.
The obvious thought here was that they’re a good source of vitamin C, but that wasn’t the point at all. The point was that too many people eat satsumas or tangerines instead of oranges. Oranges, you see, as well explained by Eddie Izzard some years ago, are bloody difficult to peel. Satsumas and tangerines aren’t. If you eat an orange you might end up with your hands covered in that weird orangey sheen, but you will at the same point force yourself to have a couple of minutes focusing on nothing but peeling that orange. Until that orange is peeled, the rest of the world might as well cease to exist. Nothing really exists in that time apart from your sticky, juice covered hands, and the semi-mashed orange you’ve set your sights on.
Eating an orange though isn’t the only way to achieve this space or quiet. As I’ve gotten older and life has seemingly got exponentially busier (2 children under 5 years old might play a part in this), finding this quiet has got equally more tricky. I often find myself offering to drive to the shop to buy a big bottle of milk or taking slightly longer than I really need to on the toilet in order to grab brief snippets of quiet wherever I can.
But these are all just snacks of space, of quietness. Snacks leave you wanting more and snacks don’t fill you up. Now and then I want a big hearty meal of quiet and that’s what running gives me.
Sometimes I focus on my technique, sometimes I focus on my time, but mostly I just run. I normally run for about 40-50 minutes and at the end of any run if you asked me what I’d thought about whilst I was running I would be unlikely to be able to tell you a single thing that had occupied my mind during that time.
While I’m out on my run I see very few people and those that I do see have no intention of interacting with me. Someone might ring me or message me but my phone is at home so I’m oblivious to it until I return. When I set off on a run I know I’ve bagged myself almost an hour of interaction free time. That might sound like I’m enjoying being anti-social but really I’m just taking a brief bit of time to find that space so that when I do spend time with people I care about I’m actually there, present with them, and not in 73 places at once, thinking about what I did wrong yesterday or how I’m going to make tomorrow better.
It’s also amazing after I’ve had that run how many other things just click into place. Solutions to problems seem to miraculously appear, or new ideas and creative sparks seem to emerge from nothingness. It happens too often and too consistently for it to be a coincidence. Once the run creates the space to organise and clear the clutter that’s flying around in my mind, like a recently tidied bookshelf, there’s enough order to see where everything is and enough room to fit in some new information.
So now that you’ve read this, be kind to yourself and go and eat an orange. Maybe take a drive or walk to the shop to get the oranges. Then enjoy peeling the awkward thing. If it fills up you up with quietness then great, if not then go out and gorge yourself on a big run.