The way I see it, running has numerous benefits: as well as keeping you physically fit, it gives you the ideal opportunity to create a personal space that other folk can’t interfere with. You can be out the door and over the horizon without the need for a complicated excuse. It encourages discipline and self-dependence – how are you going to get home if you don’t go the distance? There’s time to think, chance to challenge yourself and… you don’t half see some interesting things along the way.
I’m very lucky, because I live in the south of France I get to run in some beautiful countryside. My running shoes also go wherever I do because it’s a great way to see a place in the freshness of early morning, before most folk are out and about. No matter how many times I see the sun rise over the sea, run along an empty beach or hear a hidden stream crashing through boulders, the joy of it never diminishes.
Running along Hammamet beach in Tunisia early one spring morning, I passed a local woman sitting close to the shoreline. Encumbered by clothing that covered everything apart from her hands and face, she was simply staring sadly at the horizon like a Muslim version of the French Lieutenant’s Woman. She smiled at me but there was a longing in her face that spoke of isolation and containment. It was a look that made me wonder whether for a moment she wished she were me. Freedom is another benefit of running – or is it the other way around?
On a more comical note, I was on one of my regular trails through the hills alongside the Bay of St Tropez when I heard a great deal of yapping and shouting in the distance. It was October and I assumed the local hunters had caught up with a wild boar, but the racket was clearly on the move and getting closer. A moment later, the most unlikely ensemble imaginable burst round the corner in a crescendo of canine enthusiasm and I found myself sharing my route with a team of Huskies towing a quad bike!
Yesterday, it being Sunday morning, I decided to tackle a 23k route I’d had my eye on for a while. It goes way off up into the hills and includes a pretty monumental climb, even by my standards. I was pretty surprised to round a corner on very long uphill section and see in front of me a very unlikely looking jogger who I soon caught up and overtook. I say unlikely because we were in the middle of nowhere and he looked like he shouldn’t be that far from a defibrillator, let alone from home or a vehicle of some kind. He had the sort of kit on that people wore on the high street in the 1980s, which was flapping about as he ran like someone hurrying for a bus. It was very surreal, as if he’d been beamed in by Scottie. I had to admire his ambitious choice of terrain, but couldn’t help thinking he’d make better progress with less wind resistance! It’s probable that he was equally surprised to be overtaken by a woman in what some would describe as a catsuit, who gave him the fright of his life by creeping up behind him and shouting bonjour!