What I think about when I think about running

“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about running recently, and I here’s why I think you should be, too.

When you tell people that you enjoy running, many people ask why, and some come out with the old chestnut that it’s “bad for your knees.”

The “why” question is valid. I used to hate running. Genuinely detest it. I love walking, and always have, but there was something about running that made me want to punch the first person I came across in the face every time I tried it, just to have somebody to share the pain with.

I tried running while listening to music or podcasts, which actually made me hate music and podcasts for a while. Somebody suggested running in the rain, because it was “fun”. Imagine doing something you hate while also being cold and wet.

And just when I was ready to concede that running simply wasn’t for me, I read Born to Run. The book mentioned running without shoes on which, as someone who likes going without shoes, held a strange appeal. Shorty after I’d read it, I decided to give running one last shot. I was hating that last run like all the others before it and, just before I was about to throw my shoes into the river, I took them off and ran barefoot for a hundred metres or so.

Now, I’m not going to claim that the heavens opened and I had a revelation, but I didn’t hate it. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it.

My first few barefoot runs were painful as hell. Not only was I using muscles I hadn’t used for a long time — if at all, really — I also realized how dreadfully out of condition I was. But I stuck at it and, over time, my runs began to not only get longer but infinitely more enjoyable. On top of that, despite getting sore knees, hips and back while running in shoes with thick soles, these aches and pains all but disappeared when I started running barefoot and in minimalist shoes (more on those in detail another time).

Running is like work (hear me out)

A lot of people hate the work they do. Sad, but true. In the same way, lots of people hate running.

When I started running barefoot I found a style of running — mid-foot strike, high cadence, long-distance — that I began to love. Yes, love.

Running was no longer something to be tolerated (or loathed), it was something I looked forward to, made time for, and thoroughly enjoyed doing. I still do. It brings me clarity, makes me feel great, helps me solve problems, allows me to meditate, lets me explore new places, gives me a sense of adventure, keeps me healthy (physically, emotionally, and mentally), and more.

So what does that have to do with work?

It pays to experiment.

I’ve tried a few styles of working, from full-time employment to full-time freelancing — the work equivalent of either running in padded shoes with custom orthotics (full-time employment) and running completely barefoot (full-time freelancing).

Being barefoot all the time didn’t work. I liked it, but my bare feet have limits, especially when I want to run on mountain trails or across gravel. As I’ve already said, the built-up shoes didn’t work either. What does work for me is wearing minimalist shoes: thin soles, no padding, zero-drop. A sweet spot between being barefoot and running in conventional shoes.

Workwise, I’ve found a similar sweet spot: splitting my time between lecturing part-time at a couple of universities, client work, and more eclectic work with my family-run business.

If I’d listened to the naysayers, never read a book about running, never tried to find out more about it, never experimented, or never taken my shoes off (something that loads of people still think is ridiculous) I’d never have enjoyed running.

Likewise, if I hadn’t tried a few styles of working, I wouldn’t have found the one that works for me. It might not work for me in twenty years time, or even in a year’s time, but — as I found out through being injured — when that time comes I’ll have to find ways to adapt. Anyone can do it.

You should try new things and experiment, as it can open up ways of doing things you’d never thought about, new opportunities, or even a career you love that you’d never considered before.

Read, listen, ask questions, experiment, watch, try, have fun.

And if you try something and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, you just might not have found the style that suits you yet. When you do, you’ll love it.

Time for a run.

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