I read Murakami's reflection on running recently (he pinched the title from the first chapter of my VLE book – oh, okay, we both pinched it from Raymond Carver, but I got there first), and it caused me to consider why I run. I started running regularly about four years ago (it's my runiversary!). Before I launch into a meditation on running here are a few facts:
- I am patently not very good at it. There are people who discover running and a talent is unearthed, they are effortlessly clocking sub-3 hour marathons and a slow training run is faster than I can ever manage. I am not one of these. At my peak I managed a 48 minute 10K. I guess if I trained really hard and changed diet, got a personal trainer I could bring this down, but I am never going to be a 40 minute 10ker, let alone a 30 minute one. Some people start up and within a couple of months are clocking 40 minutes. I am at very best average ie I come in the middle of the pack of a race (although see next point).
- I am getting worse at it. I used to be an 8 minute miler, but my pace has slipped to around 9 minutes and despite my best efforts I seem unable to reclaim the glory of the first year or so. This could be related to age, or putting on a bit of weight, but I think it's more down to being willing to push myself harder when I was starting out.
- I frequently don't want to do it and don't enjoy it. I drag myself out and have a miserable, below-par run.
So why do I run? I have rarely gone a week without a run in the past four years, usually run about 4-5 times a week and have taken part in countless (oh, okay, 13) races that I have no chance of doing well in. Let's put aside issues of staying reasonably healthy and weight (which are factors, but probably not my prime motivation). As Murakami says of his writing, he doesn't really compose much while running. I am the same, I could argue that I think through problems, but while I do occasionally, often I don't think of much beyond 'I'm not enjoying this run much.' Having said that, it does give you some clear space and maybe that not thinking of much at all enables you to be focused at other times. I do semi-compose blog posts (hell, even tweets) while running so it has helped with that.
The god things about running? There is something about the nature of the data in running that appeals to me. It's about miles run, pace per mile, top speed, long distance speed, etc. I also like its simplicity (being a simple person at heart), but this very simplicity provides a multitude of ways of approaching it (kind of like Twitter). You can concentrate on a race, different distances, pace, hills, etc. This year, although my pace is rubbish, I am aiming to run 1000 miles over the course of the year. It's not an amazing amount, but it requires a steady approach, and changes the psychology of my running. I am fond of running on holiday and some of my most memorable runs have been in Cornwall, Antigua, Italy and Australia.
But all these are bonuses: the main reason I run is something I've been thinking about a lot lately with regards to online activity – namely, identity. Although I'm not a good runner, I do it regularly enough to feel confident in classifying myself as a runner. In running terms I am a mild underpronator, 8-9 minute miler, half-marathon runner. And that classification matters.
And so on to the inevitable connection with education. Actually I don't think the link is as arduous to make as I sometimes manage – running is a lot like learning. You don't have to be the best in a subject, you 'compete' against yourself, you find different strategies, you need different motivations, and we define ourselves by what we express a preference for. And the analogy holds true if we consider formal and informal learning. I don't belong to a running club and I mainly engage in informal learning. But for the sake of motivation and the experience I like to take part in formal events, ie races, and occasionally I might want to have my learning formally recognised. The two can exist quite happily and to each other's mutual benefit in running, so why not in education?