One of the unexpected joys of holidaying here on the Welsh coast has been to discover the beauty of the coastline that runs from Porthmadog to Criccieth–and, importantly, the well-maintained footpaths by which one is able to walk along this scenic coast.
Walk, or better, run — if one is, in the words of the vicar of the small parish church we attended on Sunday, ‘one of those fitness fanatics’.
While I would energetically deny the accusation of being fanatical about my fitness, were it meant with any seriousness, there is no denying that I have for some time gladly associated myself with that species of person which seems so strange to many of more sedentary pastimes – with runners.
The seeds of this association were probably sown in the joyfully active childhood of Chefoo: climbing mountains, trekking through the jungle, exploiting our geography to maximum effect in various brilliant wide games (any Chefusians remember Commandoes?), and playing a lot of football on our eccentrically-shaped pitch.
But my membership of this peculiar tribe really began in the year that my family returned to England, and I found myself starting secondary school in the maroon jumper and striped tie of Oathall Community College. I might at a later date reflect further on the trials and temptations of acclimatizing to a secular British state school of some two thousand pupils after spending four years in a school for forty missionary kids. For now let us simply say that the saving grace of the initial autumn months of the school year was that I was an able football player, the saving grace of the cold and dark winter was the Nintendo 64 that had come miraculously into our family’s possession, and the saving grace of the spring – when it finally came – was that I started running.
I had been out of school for a few days with some disease inflicted by the winter weather, and when I returned it was to PE class on a January morning. And cross-country season had just begun. Hindered only by the necessity of wiping my still-ill nose at regular intervals with the red-and-black sleeve of the school rugby top, I made my way around the three kilometers or so of the cross-country course. Three days later, now recovered, I again made my way around the course—this time sufficiently quickly to be told by the teacher afterwards that I had just been selected for the school cross-country team.
I didn’t know there was such a thing. What did it involve? Nothing—except I would have to miss my next week’s Art class in order to compete in the interschool competition. This was a sacrifice which I could happily make, and the next week while my classmates were enlightened about the usefulness of the Colour Wheel, I found myself being crowned the third fastest boy of my age in mid-Sussex.
Thus I became a runner.
And to this day I love to put on a pair of ridiculously short running shorts and run.
But why? Well, if you believe the spokesmen of the barefoot running movement, humans are made to run. And lest anyone counter that with the truth that humans are made to glorify God and enjoy him forever, we can point to Eric Liddell, Presbyterian missionary to China and winner of the Olympic 400m Gold medal as an example that these two raisons d’etre are not incompatible.
As if that clip of Eric Liddell getting up from his fall to win the race isn’t sufficient to inspire any warm-blooded person to run, here are five more reasons why I run:
#1 Running gives me a taste of freedom
When you run you are your own master, with no-one to tell you what to do or where to go but yourself.
Ours is a world of rules and regulations, of duties and responsibilities, of things to do and people to see. Running allows you to escape all of that for a brief interval and enter a world where your only responsibility is to continue putting one foot in front of the other.
This was particularly true for me at Hebron, in the tightly regulated miniature world of boarding school community. Whenever the frustrations of such life became too much, I could always at the end of the school day put on a pair of running shoes and escape down the drive, past the guard at the gate and out into the world.
#2 Running creates a strong sense of companionship
For all that running is an essentially individual activity that offers a chance to escape from the cramped conditions of community life, it also acts as a catalyst for real friendship. When you regularly spend an hour of your week straining your body to its physical limits in the company of another runner doing the same, you will inevitably feel a special sense of kinship with that person.
Running with Sam Fisk on the athletics field at Oathall, running with Messrs. Longfield & Cantle up the sloping hills of the Nilgiris, running with Feroze along the streets of Singapore—I came to love these people. And not because we had anything very much in common. But purely the fact that we had run together meant that I felt a bond between us.
#3 Running takes me out into the world
When I talk about running, I’m not talking about stationary jogging on a treadmill. I’m talking about getting outside and travelling several kilometers through the surrounding landscape until you arrive, now sweating and somewhat short on breath, back at your door.
Running has taken me through the tropical jungles of Malaysia; past rural Indian villages whilst chased by small boys; amidst crowds of Orchard Road shoppers in the consumerist metropolis of Singapore; alongside rowers sculling through the dawn mist that hovers over the river Cam; and now beside the craggy coast of Wales.
In fact, I would even suggest that you don’t really know a place until you’ve run through it.
#4 Running is a weapon against lethargy
All too often I go through the day feeling as if I’m covered in an invisible blanket that dulls my desire to do anything. But when you start the day by tackling that inertia head-on with a morning run, you’re then set to take on whatever task might come before you.
Sluggishness, lethargy, and that oppressive sense of what the French call la je m’enfoutisme : all can be vanquished — or at least seriously restrained — by a regular habit of running.
#5 Running keeps my body fit
As Paul reminds the Corinthians, It is required of a steward that he be found faithful.
What that means when related to fitness is this: God has given me a body, I need to take care of it. And running helps me do that.
What’s more, with modern technological gadgetry providing me with the sort of tools that until just a few years ago were the preserve of James Bond and the Q Laboratory, I’m now able to track distance travelled, calories burnt, average pace and various other fitness-related statistics on my phone. And having a record of these things is genuinely helpful when it comes to staying motivated. (Although it is also quite frustrating to find that such is the cloudiness of Wales that I have generally run about three kilometers before the GPS on my phone succeeds in picking up satellite signal and begins recording my distance travelled).
So, there you go. Six reasons why I run, and only one of them related to fitness. Perhaps I’m not a fitness fanatic after all.
Runners of the world, what about you? Why do you run?
And to those of you not part of our peculiar tribe, what do you do to stay active?