Andrew Missingham asked me some questions about my running recently. In the interests of sharing and thinking in public – here they are, along with some photos from my running…
1. What’s the most inspiring run you’ve ever been on, in a city? What was it about it that was inspiring? What time of day was it? What could you see, feel, hear, smell?
It was in New York City, one hot summer morning at dawn. I ran from Chelsea out to the Hudson and ran up to the Upper West Side, then back into Manhattan, through the southern end of Central Park and back down to where I’d started.
What was inspiring was the variety of things I saw. The rotting pillars of old freight jetties in the harbour, the early morning workers shuffling along the street and later the full strutting stampede of New Yorkers heading to offices and shops and studios. I saw the city wake up as I ran through it…
It was so hot even though the sun was just up. The various smells of the foreign city – the river, the trash, the traffic, the coffee and breakfasts being made in cafes and street stalls. It was exhilarating: New York always is – it’s a wonder of the world, the greatest city ever, organic and alive, decay and growing anew always. Incredible and captivating – you’re lucky to be there and to run there is to become a part of it, of the morning crowds of quiet runners and cyclists – dotted here and there on the avenues, moving in lumpy herds in Central Park and along the river.
The first part of the run, the dawn part along the river was wonderful. Once I’d made it to the waterside I was on Manhattan’s Greenway – I could run as far as I liked around the island without having to worry about roads, taking in the sights.
There were little parks along the route here and there. Some amazing sculptures of grey figures, eery and wonderful that made me stop to be sure they weren’t actual people dressed up (or something stranger). Those statues were literally inspiring, as I spent the next two or three miles making up a story about a sleeping disease whose sufferers rose like somnambulist zombies to terrorise the wakeful… fun.
2. When you go for a run, what would you wish was available on the run, that would make your run easier (and make you more likely to run?
I am pretty self-sufficient on most runs. Being of a gadget-ish disposition, I carry water and sports drinks (this is my current favourite thing – a Nathan Trail Mix 4 belt). If it is very hot then somewhere to re-fill water bottles or buy a cold sports drink can be essential.
In cities, wide paths, well lit and public feel safer. Where there are other runners you always feel more secure to settle down into the groove of your run.
What makes runs easier are routes that mean you don’t have to cross roads. In part of New York runners share the wide bike lanes with cyclists. In Brighton, I like to run on the seafront or – even better – on the lonely chalk trails of the South Downs.
3. What tools do you use to inspire you (music, apps, maps etc.)? How do these help you? How might they inspire you more?
Route signs and maps are really helpful in places you don’t know so well. You can become stuck in a rut running the same routes sometimes and it is great to suddenly notice a lane or a park you can run through for variety.
Big maps on signs are useful when I don’t know the area so well as it is easy to get lost, especially if I don’t have my phone.
Signs that make it clear whether it is OK to run in a bike lane for instance are really helpful. If you feel you have the right to run somewhere, like you have permission, it stops you from worrying.
I listen to audiobooks and podcasts most while training. I used to listen to my favourite podcast – Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews – while commuting. Now I look forward to catching up with it on a 10 mile run at weekend. When things get tough though – the music comes on – I have playlists for endurance and for motivating me to run faster.
4. Taking yourself right back to the beginning of your running journey, what did it feel like to start running? How might the experience of running be made better, or easier for people just starting out?
Starting running is really hard. You have to overcome a lot of doubts about yourself and grow a habit of getting out there regularly. You have to not care that you look ridiculous, and you have to weather the odd nasty experience like being shouted at from cars or uncontrolled dogs chasing you.
What makes it easier?:
- Apps: The simple act of clocking up the miles on an app like Nike+ (as I did) or Runkeeper, helps you to see the progress you make.
- Other runners. I got a good set of shoes and some running gear from Run, a shop run by brilliant runners in Hove. Along with your purchases you get encouragement and solid advice. The owner, Karl, is on Twitter and has given me some sage advice via tweets. Once I said that my morning outing had been “less of a run and more of a miserable shuffle through heavy rain”. Karl responded to the effect that “they all count, Antony – especially the duff ones”. From an experienced runner that felt valuable – and it’s a great way of thinking about rubbish runs – they are the ones where you really had to be tough to get out and finish them.
- Good gear – and plenty of it: One thing I did early on that paid off was to make sure I had enough gear – tights, tops, socks, gloves, hats – so that I could always find something to wear for a run in any weather. Eliminating excuses not to go for a run one by one, is something that’s a good habit to keep.
- Expert help. I kept getting a bad back having to stop running for months – then it would be hard to start all over again. Chiropracty just postponed the problem each time I went – it kept flaring up. When I went to see a professional sports physiotherapist I got the problem properly diagnosed (tight hamstrings) and sorted it out quickly – but basically, as part of the process, I learnt to run again. From scratch. Analysing my gait (running technique) on a treadmill he showed me how to run more efficiently, with a higher cadence and landing on my mid-foot. The effect was transformative and within a year I’d completed my fastest race and was rapidly getting fitter – a trajectory that continues today. (If you live near Brighton – he’s Kevin Hall: highly recommended!)
- Supportive friends and family. My wife was so pleased I was running it really helped me get started and still helps me carry on as I run marathons and half-marathons fairly regularly. A couple of years ago she also took up running, which helps a lot. Praise means a lot from those you love – and often from other people too. (The flip-side is weird people who feel they have to warn you about the perils of running – with no apparent expertise on their side. You have to learn to ignore their “helpful” concerns.)
- Advice and acceptance. Runners are incredibly inclusive for the most part and generous with advice on how to get better. Right at the start, I recall a Mum of one of our kids’ friends passing on the nugget that “it takes three weeks of running and then you are completely addicted”. Her advice was spot-on, and that helped me get through the first three tough weeks of starting to run. Continuing in that vein, the simple three-step advice I give to people wanting to start is:
- Get a good pair of trainers from a running shop – they will cost about £60-80.
- Run every other day for 20 minutes or two miles, walking whenever you need to – record it on an app like Nike+.
- Keep it up for three weeks. See how you feel then – and start setting goals – longer runs, enter a race and follow a race plan from Runner’s World. Find a Park Run near you to join in… and that’s it. You’re a runner.