Why have people taken to running? I read an essay recently that said that more and more it was a status thing, that people are taking to listing their running feats on job hunt and dating sites. Far from self-discovery in allegiance with nature, and mental release, most runners, it surmised, actually heap more mental pressure on themselves by scoring kudos points through their running.
The article, published online in a publication called The Conversation was part of a PhD study by Carys Egan-Wyer, is based on interviews and diary notes with 33 runners. The numbers involved make conclusions fairly insignificant, but what the study does do is point out that running as is not going to act as a universal mental release, and that apps such as Strava add pressure and intensity to some runners.
Clearly PB running can be about status as much as a marker of personal wellbeing and the quest for bests is much more prevalent amongst road runners.
Personally, I prefer the relative unaccountability of trail, where only those out on the same trial the same day meet the same comparable conditions. But I think that like many my running suits variety moods along a social vs antisocial scale. I am at my best when sharing a running experience with people who like the same scenery that I do, rather than belting around the suburbs of some flat town seeking a 10K PB, but I still enjoy competition and the challenge wherever I run in a race.
Endurance Life Dorset
When I signed up to run Endurance Life Dorset’s 28-mile-long and very hilly trail marathon, I did so with a few motivations. Looking deeply into myself these were the top 10 reasons why I chose it
- Fab location, where I grew up
- Excuse to visit my dad
- Endurance Life website – the event and team looked cool
- Endurance Life reputation for well organised authentic and soulful events
- Lots of steep descents
- Clocking up another marathon
- Might bring out the racer in me
- Not having to do the garden
- I have a bit of my medal rack dedicated to longer events and it needed topping up
- Chips after
And in reality…
A brilliant day out.
- A fantastic location to run in. There were several distances to choose from, the weather was windy but kind enough, the views distracting, the other runners made great company. A quibble – some of the slower half marathoners joining the same route led to some hill climbing congestion, but on the plus side the company of these extra faces was welcome.
- A nice evening with dad the night before. He’s 89 and gets an early night which was just the pre-event discipline that I needed.
- The website for this outing really added to the event as a whole. One runner doing the half complained to me that he had not been able to get much actual running in with all the climbing and descending, but you could not have had better signposting online that this race is brutal. But how useful is that website? There are pie-chart countdowns to show how full the entry is, well taken photos, easy entry and cancellation system, and runners accounts that are actually useful.
- Is too well organised ever a bad thing? Arrival on site saw a much larger team processing car parking and registration than I am familiar with. Getting a number on was marvellously efficient, but also a little bit processed with staff prodding dozy early morning runners along the line. Obviously, this neat system was a whole lot better than queuing in the rain only to find you are in the A-N rather than N-W section when you get to the front! And the Gu sponsored gel hand out at number collection was definitely a good thing. I would never have tried these otherwise. I used mine the other day, they are a bit like a chocolate bar you have sat on in the car on a hot day – in a good way. Finally, Jordan’s welcome speech and briefing was far more on point than the usual.
- The steep descents were spot on for me, although at times the staircases were congested. My strength in descending came to the fore and in the last few miles as I whipped down the hill to the beach at Lulworth. My descending was good enough for second in the M45 category, admittedly on a day when there were less veterans about than usual, but some powerful runners were behind me, so I’m counting it. I won some credit on my account, traded for a hi-resolution photo (low-res are free).
- Duly clocked.
- See 5.
- The garden is a mess.
- The medal was a disappointment. I think trail runners are not supposed to mind about the medal, but I’m a fan. The best ones really evoke the event and keep it in the memory for me. This one was skimpy and related only obliquely to the superlative route and its views.
- Superbly satisfying after a blustery cliff-exposed run.
At the end of the race there was one surprise and delight discovery. The Ultra distance winner – with a massive lead over the man who came second, was one Chrissie Wellington OBE. Chrissie is sporting royalty, four-time Ironman World Champion and a leader in sports equality for women. Chrissie transcends endurance – she is one of Britain’s finest ever athletes. It was a privilege to follow in her footsteps and to be able to scale my achievement against her. The Ultra was 5 miles longer than my race – but she completed her race 15 mins quicker than I completed mine! We were in the finish area at a similar time and she stopped and chatted with a training friend of mine, Karen Hacker.
The Grim Challenge
The Grim Challenge is an 8-mile race through the flooded tank tracks in Aldershot. Here’s the ten reasons that made me choose it and how well it stacked up against my list.
- The billing – it seemed quite a hyped and attended event, so the atmosphere should be good.
- Photos, of the wading sections. Pushed my mad buttons.
- The name, which sounded like a race to add to a ‘completed it’ list.
- I figured the race would appeal to my sports massage therapist Phil.
- It seemed to attract some crazies, who might be amusing to run with.
- A sense of exclusive access.
- I had once taken on an obstacle run, this seemed something of a hybrid that I hadn’t tried before.
- On a weekend when Santa Scampers dominate, this freeze your feet self-flagellation sounded refreshing.
- It was only 8 miles!
- A good pre-lunch appetiser.
- Well organised but a tired looking event kit and a surprisingly sheepish start. I felt I wanted more build up, a bit of ballyhoo.
- The photos are excellent. One more photo spot out on the course would add value. There were a few fancy-dress runners and one or two shirtless, adding an eccentric gimmicky appeal.
- The event was less challenging than the name, especially as the wading sections are bound to slow you down – most walk through them – so that it was quite hard to feel energy sapped.
- It was a great event to go to with a buddy as it would have been frustrating to race it hard. The stop start nature of the wet sections together with some bunching and congestion make this an event to do rather than to push yourself through.
- Beyond seeing a big nearly naked man puddle diving and a cross dressed bunny girl with a disturbing unintended second tail, there wasn’t that much to remark upon.
- There was quite a large turnout, though short of the 1000s that the race website suggested might be there. I felt that accessing this armed vehicle testing area was nevertheless something of a privilege, and the local community, with so many connections to the armed forces, surely agree. A camo buff to finishers was a nice touch.
- You can attack an obstacle course as you can a run. This wasn’t quite the same, possibly people were right to take the flood sections with care, after all it was impossible to see the holes and ruts through the mud water. Nevertheless, I felt short of epic moments.
- It was certainly a different vibe.
- Too short to get properly exhausted at the slow pace dictated, but longer and I would have been bored. The scenery was a little repetitious.
- Hungry without being ravenous when I got back home.
So, did these events answer my Why do I Run question? In a sense, I guess they did as my ultimate measure of both was how epic did they make me feel?
And for that, Dorset, with its run over the raw cliffs and past the crashing of the unbridled winter waves won hands down over the puddles splashing Grim. It also had soul, courtesy of the EL team.
I am not first and foremost a PB chaser, nor do I need a cargo net to make me feel more entangled in my run. But that’s me. I’m not really into the numbers or the showing others my best crossed-dressed-in-mud pose, but plenty are and there are as many reasons to run as there are runners.
Anyway, I must stop writing and get these pictures of me up. I have 6 club run miles to do tonight, I am nearing 2000 miles on Strava for 2019 and I want you to know!