Books,  Running

What I talk about when I talk about running


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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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?


  • James

    Great post Martin. With regard to running, I think I was verging on being one of those runners you refer to but I discovered it well in my 30’s so my potential was a little bit limited and, when I could have pushed to become ‘fast’ life got in the way and I took a big break. Now I am middling and dealing with recurring and seemingly chronic injuries. My PB’s were all several years ago and now I’m nowhere near a 38 minute 10k, 1:26 half marathon or 3:06 marathon. At the time I ran those I think I could have easily gotten faster still by 10-15%. My last two marathons were 3:19 and 3:41 respectively.
    1000 miles in a year is still a good average because you’re going to have weeks where you don’t get 20 miles in and, so, you’ll have weeks where you’ll need to do 30 or more to hit your goal. The speed you run at has nothing to with classifying you. The fact that you’re thinking about it the way you do makes you a runner.
    With regard to comparing running to education, you could compare it to anything. I’m more of an interactive designer than an educational professional and yet I feel much the way you do. I’m not Eric Meyer or Jeffrey Zeldman and never will be. However, I’m always trying to make myself better and think of things from new perspectives. With regard to design, there are still not even necessarily programs that address the core of good design completely because it’s so multi-faceted. The only way I can recognize informal learning is if my work seems to be improving. I don’t know how else it could be recognized. Then again, I’m presently doing an MA in learning and technology so I’m not sure what that says about my design background, because I’m looking to change things up a little and move in other directions with my career.

  • Mark Curcher

    Great post that resonates with both the runner and educator in me. That desire to improve and as you say – about identity. I enjoyed Murakami’s book because I could connect to some of his experiences and was surprised when my dad read it while staying with me as he normally does not enjoy running books – although he is still banging out 2:06 half marathons at 71 years old – I think he prefers to get out and do it more than read about it!

  • KarenK

    I run with various women friends at lunchtimes. It’s a real mix and match affair – different paces & distances, so we adapt to each other. I think the reasons we do it are to get a break from work, to chat, to have friends to ‘unload’ troubles onto, and to get help and ideas on things (at home or work). So if we’re looking for learning links, for me it’s around community (and it also keeps us fit …)

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