Natural running: in the moment and only because you want to

Is running free one option in a catalogue of running genres we can choose from or is it just starry-eyed nonsense?

Tue, Apr 22, 2014, 01:00

I’m up to my ankles in muck and I’m lost. I’m in the middle of an experiment. In his new book Running Free , Richard Askwith, the British news editor turned celebrated running author, tries to persuade us to adopt a whole new way of running. And getting lost is an important part of it because when we’re lost we’re more sensitive to our environment.

Irish runners are in the grip of an international frenzy. Since the mid-90s, the global running industry has mushroomed by 500 per cent to become the fastest growing sport in the world. Today, running is about times and distances, specialist equipment and self-improvement.

‘Mindful’ running
Askwith says we have it all wrong. His book is a hymn to natural or “mindful” running: running in a landscape that stimulates you and embracing your environment instead of blocking it out.

It means exploring possibilities rather than measuring time. Essentially, it’s running because you want to.

Is his proposal realistic? Can running really be about discarding your stopwatch and running in the moment? Drawing on an unsurpassed propensity for getting lost, I put his theory to the test.

Askwith recommends running at daybreak to catch nature unveiling itself and it’s just before 6:30am on a crisp Sunday morning when I start my run near Lough Graney in Cahermurphy, east Clare – about half-way between Gort and Killaloe.

As dawn slowly leaks through the sky I have a genuine sense of anticipation, something I rarely feel before a run.

As I fringe the lake and go through a forest, I hear something new: my running breaths. I never run without an iPod, but a pillar of natural running is removing your headphones and opening your ears.

Without my Johnny Cash playlist drowning it out, I’m immediately aware of the shallow cadences of my breaths and the erratic rhythm of my feet as they trace shifting textures: bulging roots, a carpet of moss, a slippery hollow.

As I leave the forest and run down a minor road, I feel like I’m starting to understand Askwith’s conviction that natural running stimulates your senses.

I notice that I’m flanked by a battalion of daffodils, their heads bowed as though waiting for the coming sun, and how, behind them, stand two sickly, hungover trees stubbornly holding on to their autumn coat.

In the interests of natural running, I decide to get lost. I lurch to my right, cross a stream and slowly (very slowly) trudge up a soggy hill and charge down the other side.

My run is scored by a symphony of birdsong, but the effect of the trilling and chirruping is offset by the gurgling of my feet, as they sink into mucky holes, and the pop when I pull them out.

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