Run to the beat of your own drum

Running in its purest sense is a repetitive action that propels you forwards. The constant tapping of your feet on the ground creates a rhythm, a beat if you like and the tap, tap tap of your trainers can become hypnotic, however, in a curious way, even though you are moving, everything around you is largely standing still.

As a runner how do we know what speed we are travelling at ? We check our garmin or other such time pieces. How often do we need to check our garmin ? Will it have changed significantly a hundred meters further along our route, probably not. What if we didn’t look at our watches but went on feel occasionally to measure our efforts ?

As I ran down Old Winchester hill last weekend I paused my watch, took in the views, snapped the photo above and set off again. Some time later I realised I hadn’t started my watch, initially I was a bit peeved, there may have even been a swear word but it dawned on me that I’d hardly looked at it from the start of my run anyway so why was it such a big deal.

Pace is very subjective, your pace and someone else’s pace are only comparable when you are both running the same terrain. All sorts of factors come into play, the wind, your route, how you slept etc and none of these are reflected on your garmin. A good example of this is your personal best, the clue is in the question, it’s “your” best so don’t compare it to other peoples.

Now, are you ready for this, for the remainder of my exercise I switched off my watch. Switched off his watch !! I can hear the gasps, the cries of dismay, the “did he really say that” comments. Just take a minute to digest this and I will explain.

Firstly it felt liberating, like I’d taken off my shirt when arriving at the beach, secondly I felt empowered, I could do exactly what I wanted and it wouldn’t reflect on a Strava post. It was almost like having the TV remote control in my hand, I could pause, fast forward or even rewind if I wanted to. How would I cope ??

The South Downs are a very special place and I’ve really missed running here, without any time expectations I pondered what actually dictates the pace you run at, other than your watch. I discovered that looking at the bigger picture can be quite enlightening.

Hills, they certainly slow you down but at the same time they are building up your strength, willpower and resilience. Generally speaking whatever you run up you will run back down so that’s a real benefit, coupled with that glow of satisfaction once you’ve scaled your chosen hill.

The wind is another resistance factor that you have to endure but it makes your cheeks tingle and reaffirms that you are outdoors, you are alive and you won’t give in. Naturally you’d hope that on your return leg the wind will be behind you but curiously this rarely seems to be the case, ha ha !!

The temperature can be a blessing or a burden but ultimately with the correct kit and hydration it ought to be manageable. Your watch won’t tell you that you haven’t been drinking enough until it’s too late.

The terrain, are you running on soft mud or baked Summer soil that’s had ruts moulded into it. Have you run this way before ? Do you know what’s around the next corner ? Is there livestock that you need to look out for or maybe a family walking there inquisitive dog ?

What dictates our pace and how we measure it can only recorded with elapsed time on your watch so take a break. Maybe just press start and finish without considering the seconds, minutes and hours in-between.
Try it as an experiment and consider which factors are shaping your run, this way you will absorb why, where and how your run went therefore allowing you to consider which elements you can work on instead of purely “clocking” it.

There’s no such thing as a bad run and because no two runs are the same you can take something positive from every outing. Just because you aren’t running at your desired pace this doesn’t mean you aren’t having a good run.

Running doesn’t need to be mechanical (for most of us) it’s emotional, ever changing and you are always learning so it’s worth fully experiencing every step. Your timings are a good indicator but from now on I’m going to embrace my whole run and how it unfolded rather than just what the Strava upload tells me. Naturally these are just my observations but I’m glad I forgot to start my watch because it’s given me a new perspective.

In summary, don’t be a slave to your watch, take as much out of your running experience as possible by noting what effects you. Be the boss, set your own rhythm according to your surroundings, try listening to your running drum beat.

Thanks for reading

Roger

A Mindful run on the South Downs

Mindfulness to me is running with focus but also relaxation. I recently wrote this as an Instagram post, now I’d like to fully explain what it means to me. Paying attention to both your surroundings and your thoughts helps you “live” in the moment. The scenery and trail make you concentrate which then fills you with positive energy.

These days I enjoy stopping for a moment to take in the beauty of nature or simply absorbing where I’m running rather than concentrating on pace.

Over the years I’ve definitely appreciated my running more because my goals have changed. A good run to me is the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve clocked up a descent amount of miles and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Reflecting on Saturdays run I can pinpoint a number of occasions when I felt 100% engaged in what I was doing. These moments of clear purpose mean that you are processing the task, how to achieve it and finding the solution by listening to both your body and your mind.

A good example of being completely immersed in what I was doing would be the climb up Beacon Hill as I left Exton. There are two routes up Beacon Hill, the first crosses the cow fields and has a number of gates and styles, the second is a winding country lane. On some days I enjoy the technical challenge of the obstacles but on other days the country lane means you aren’t distracted it’s simply you against the hill.

Naturally your stride shortens and in many ways your determination is as important as what’s in your legs. The lane has a couple of corners and the gradient varies with a couple of easier sections but ultimately you are being tested from the the time you leave the pretty village until you reach the trig point.

My metronomic stride had purpose, concentration and belief, it also meant that I was so focused I didn’t hear the cyclist behind me and when he overtook it made me jump like a startled deer when it hears a noise in the forest. Slightly embarrassing on my part and yet his fitting comment of “keep working” only underlined that I was totally aware and yet unaware, both at the same time. You could say I was in the zone.

I do believe that understanding what you are capable of as well as plotting how you’ll reach your target can be quite intense over a short period but once I reached the top of the hill I knew I’d enjoy the rest of my run after this boost in confidence and mindfulness.

Once arriving at the trig point you are rewarded with the view of the valley towards Old Winchester Hill further along the Downs but most of all you know that you’ve got there by noticing every meter of the climb, the gradient, the trees, the vineyard off to the left, the sound of your breathing and even the birds song. In a funny way you were part of the hill and it acknowledged that you’d scaled it without walking.

The next few miles were weaving countryside tracks that due to lockdown I haven’t run for a few months. I’ve run this way many a time before but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. You can’t take rural settings for granted because they are constantly changing. It would have been Winter the last time I was here and now it’s Spring, the colours have changed, the trees and bushes are slowly starting to fill out and the going underfoot has certainly improved !! These differences seem obvious but making a point of looking for them makes you appreciate that changes happen constantly.

Running through the countryside is an uncomplicated activity, you absorb what you see, you take it in and you smile.

On my return to Exton I had a small diversion in mind that I’ve been looking forward to visiting while cooped up in my living room working from home. The River Meon flows through the village of Exton with its clear water and high levels to the banks. Watching a fast flowing, crystal clear river is almost hypnotic and I have a small opening in the bushes in mind. As an added bonus the daffodils were still out so I paused my watch and I stood there for a few minutes totally transfixed.

During those minutes looking at the stones on the riverbed, the small ripples of waves on the surface and even a random tree branch that was along for the ride I thought to myself, I’m glad I popped by and I’ll come and visit again.

I really enjoy observing what I see on my travels and I believe my mindful running adds to the experience. Whether it’s a hill, the trails or a river take them home with you in your minds eye and reflect on their positive effect to your day.

Thanks for reading

Roger