I’ve tried to get into running many times. Multiple ‘Couch to 5k’s have been abandoned. Runkeeper/Adidas/Nike running programmes left in the dust. I despised PE at school (finding elaborate ways to get out of it) and hated sports day after age 10. I have a few memories of running as a child and enjoying it. One was in the grounds of a National Trust property and I remember running fast towards a statue, and back across the grass again. My mum saw me and said encouraging things. I can’t know for sure, but I think it felt good before the kind words and not just because of them. It’s a powerful and speedy memory.

Back to now. I don’t know why but I can’t run for more than about a minute. I have asthma but I’ve never had an asthma attack from running. I’ve tried listening to the most energetic music, which helps for a bit. Podcasts are interesting and distracting but they slow my body down because I’m in thoughtful mode. I’ve used the mentioned running plans, American women cheering me on and telling me I was born a runner. It’s like my body gets bored and so I stop and feel like I’ve failed.

In January 2021 I was at the beginning stages of training for a half marathon when I got covid for the first time. It affected my breathing. I read up on ways to help avoid getting long covid and one tip was to return to exercise VERY FUCKING SLOWLY. So I did. I have been careful after each time I’ve got covid. I’ve been learning more about our nervous systems, recovery, neuroscience and other wonderful things. I have been finding ways to listen to my body more. Questions like, what do I feel in my body right now? Where in my body feels good? What movement does my body want to make? Where am is there tension? Is there part of me which feels comforting?

I’ve been thinking more about running and a different way to approach it. Could I go out without any running plan and just.. run for as long as I feel like it? Not trying to hit any particular length of time or speed, just for as long as feels good and I still want to do it?

So, today I did that for the first time. Whilst running I decided to call it run when you fucking want / walk when you fucking want. Super catchy name, I’ll be trademarking it any day now. I started off, running with my dog in the rainy and muddy park. I went to the woods, where I felt like spending time even though it would be a bit more difficult with the dog.

And I loved it. I ended up spending the first part laughing as there was no possibility of running with any grace on the sloped, muddy ground. I was all wonky. I had to jump over puddles and extra muddy bits. It felt fun to be running alongside this companionable creature. The wind and the rain and the mud made it me feel more ridiculous AND alive. Then, as soon as I didn’t feel like doing it any more, I stopped running and walked. 

Whilst I was out, I noticed how easily I slipped into setting goals/ways to challenge myself. I’d see a tree in the distance and think “right, I should try and run to that.” I’m not making that wrong, but in this way of trying out running, I instead asked questions like “how would it feel to run on this weird bumpy spongy grass?” And then I’d see what happened and how it felt. It was movement as an experiment rather than striving towards a particular goal. I realise as I’m writing that this is what helped me enjoy art and making so much more over the past few years – fascination with process and whatever is going on in that moment, rather than a particular outcome. 

I’m imagining runners reading this and throwing their running shoes at me. I’m not suggesting that running with goals in mind is a terrible thing for us as humans. I have actually done it myself, like when training for a Tough Mudder which involved running 10 miles (trying to get some running cred here). I don’t think I would have managed it without the event date in my calendar. But right now it’s just not working for me like that.

I am realising I often spend my life trying to ignore the needs of my body, like it’s this inconvenient thing I have to haul around for my rational, thinking brain to work. Whereas really I think I’m all one thing and all of me is super important to pay attention to. This feels clunky to write – but that’s because I’m used to the language of separating my mind and my body. Learning to listen to what my body wants/needs/is communicating is a continuing practice I am working on. What I have described from today is just one way to try that out.

I think this body-ignoring comes up all the time and we learn it from a very young age. Think of how babies move, compared to toddlers, older children, teenagers to adulthood. In this western culture, as we get older our sounds and movements usually become more muted and subdued. We stop hopping around on the spot or trip-running between rooms or wriggling around so much. Think of a time where you needed the toilet but you hung on a bit longer so you didn’t interrupt whatever was going on. Think of a meeting or conversation where you were tired or bored but you didn’t suggest a break. Think of a break where you really really wanted to close your eyes to sleep but you didn’t feel like there was time or maybe that you deserved it. Think about a time where your body was saying no to a hug and you do it anyway. Or when you needed a hug and you ignored it.

Abrupt blog ending.

I’d like to mention here that a lot of the work and learning I have done around this has been with Madelanne Rust-D’Eye of Body Informed Leadership, and Victor Warring of ReWild Eros.