Once, I ran the Dublin marathon. It took me five hours, but I was embarrassed about that, so I said to most people that it took four. I didn’t train very hard and it was excruciating (my big toenails fell off). But I loved it.
So I’ll be watching the London marathon runners set off on Sunday, and a little bit of me will be wishing I were there (though with some more serious training under my belt…).
I recently read Richard Askwith’s exhilarating book, Running Free, and it reminded me how I love running. I’m not really sure whether it’s the idea of running I love (the fitness, the solitary strength, the time to think, the low cost, the opportunity to run through nature), or whether it’s the actual experience of running I like. Probably both. Either way, I run.
My running now is gentle and refreshing, around farm and woodland in the Kent countryside. I’ve been here just a few months, but I’ve been watching the changing of the seasonal guard, anticipating each new sign that reveals itself at the right time. I immerse in what the seasons really look and feel like — it’s an ever-turning kaleidescope. I enjoy the change as an observer and a bystander, and I imagine what it feels like to work with that change as a partner — like the farmers I pass on their tractors in the lengthening spring evenings. Bare trees self-consciously grow one-of-a-kind green garments; mud turns from wet dark black to a warm sun-filled brown; there is hope and there is life. This time of year, I combine running with foraging — wild garlic, nettles; whatever else I spot that I’m confident definitely isn’t something poisonous…
And with my thinking and looking, I’ve realised that for me, running is never just about running. I think that’s why I didn’t quit ages ago. It’s about everything else — the wild open spaces, the seeing and hearing and learning — it’s about wonder.
I’m a WonderRunner.
Wonder, as in the wonder of the world (not WonderWoman…maybe if I train hard enough…). The reward you get for really looking, seeing, listening. The wonder of what we’re capable of; what we can learn from nature; how the seasons bring variation and stability all at once. The wonder of seeing a carpet of woodland bluebells that have all somehow managed to, at the right time, tap into the same invisible message that says ‘Now! Grow! Bloom!’
Running in April, at the same that time thousands will pound the London pavements in the marathon, is a uniquely spring spectacle. Running in summer will bring relaxing evening runs. Autumn is for contemplation and a time to harvest thoughts and colours. And winter will bring…well… probably swearing, because running mostly happens in the dark and the cold. But I know it won’t last.
Because being a WonderRunner means I get to appreciate all of it. I don’t just look down, at the steps ahead, or at a hi-tech bit of kit strapped around my wrist that tells me how far I’ve still got to go. I look up, and out — beyond myself and my breath and any need of ‘personal bests’. My personal bests are now the moments when I am most aligned with who I am, and with the world around me. My personal bests are when I’m connecting to wild and to nature; to what I’m capable of, and to the rhythms of life seen through the seasons.
As a WonderRunner, you get to think about what personal best really means to you. Or you can forget personal bests altogether and think about collective bests. What would the world look like if we were all taking notice of local and global rhythms, understanding our values and strengths, and really connecting to the world around us through WonderRunning or something else? What are we capable of? What is our collective best?
We can WonderRun on our own, or in a tribe. We can combine it with training regimes, or simply run free whenever the mood strikes. You don’t need expensive fancy kit. You don’t even need a map — getting lost can bring unexpected wonder and new favourite places.
But however you do it, look up and look out. Notice things you’d normally pass by. Ask questions of the world, and so of yourself.
If the world had more WonderRunners, maybe there’d be more kindness and happiness, more understanding, more gratitude and creativity. I’m going to start using the Twitter hashtag #WonderRunning and share what I see and learn. Come and join me and let’s transform the world — or at least ourselves — one WonderRun at a time.