There is perhaps nothing more satisfactory for a runner than beating their personal best. Equally, there is nothing more frustrating than an injury or niggle that keeps them from performing at their maximum. The Tarahumara are indigenous to Mexico and their ability to cover 100 miles in a mere matter of days is all part and parcel of their lifestyle. They rarely suffer injuries or setbacks, survive on beer and beans and live into their 100s, no questions asked. To a runner, they’re an inspirational tribe. And hearing their story is no less than inspiring.
On Sunday, my friend and I completed the Great North West Half Marathon in less than an hour and 57. To some that might not seem particularly impressive, but I think I can speak for us both when I say we were delighted. There’s nothing like peeling back the miles as though they were pages in a thriller to fill your body with a blend of emotion and serenity. The first two miles is pace setting, but from there, it’s an even climb to the finish line. Admittedly, this course was largely flat, hence the much-improved personal best on my part, which was 23 minutes faster than the last one I finished.
Some people think runners are crazy, getting up at all hours to cover an hour or two before work. Passing up social events and structuring our weeks to suit our running and fitness regimes. Some might even call us obsessive; especially in light of the fact we’re not elites. No London 2012 for us, probably not even as spectators. So why run? Why go through the heartbreak every other season or more of injury? Why stay in on a Friday night just to be sure you cover some decent ground the next morning?
The simple answer is that nothing quite compares to the feeling of running. That doesn’t just refer to the adrenaline rush enjoyed at the end. It’s every pound along the pavement or trail. Every breath of air that makes you look at the world a little more light-heartedly. There’s not a lot of natural beauty to be admired in the London suburb where I live. But when I’m tracing its paths in a pair of Asics, it could be the Grand Canyon or Santa Monica Boulevard.
Published in 2009, Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run traces the pattern of Tarahumara running, as well as answering the titled phrase – born to run. Yes we were, anatomically at least. McDougall puts forward the argument for barefoot running; however, he notes it’s not entirely suited to everybody. In the main, it explains why we should be more practical in our approach to the sport. Running injuries haven’t declined since Nike launched padded trainers in the 70s. There’s an argument to suggest extra support and orthotics in fact do more damage than good. And contrary to popular belief, the foot should hit the ground on the sole, not the heel, in a cyclical motion observed in top marathon runners, such as Haile Gebrselassie.
For those wondering what the real appeal of a morning run in gale force winds and thundering rain can be, it’s probably honest to say those are less desirable conditions. Yet, if that’s the day we have to run to ensure we meet our weekly quota, then so be it. When the sun is splitting the clouds, to use the most obvious of clichés, it is worth more than almost any other activity. It’s good for mental health, that’s been proven. And perhaps best of all, it makes us more bearable to those around us. Anyone who’s dated a runner has probably noticed they get angsty if they don’t get out for a few days. In that way, the cheer of running extends from the participant to the wider world. And in the wider world, we’re all running towards something.