by Paul Thompson and Shamala Kandiah Thompson
It happens more often as I get older, when injured, when confidence is ebbing, when something is weighing on my mind, when performance is flagging. Asking myself ‘why do I run?’ that is.
It’s a question I try to avoid. But often it comes to me at those low points – like when a run in the wet and cold, after a long day in the office, is in the way of instant gratification in the shape of a soft sofa, fast food, and trashy TV. Or when someone, generally a non-runner, pops the question.
The answer is the holy grail of runners. When asked I usually rattle off the oft quoted reasons – well-being, fitness, stress relief, self-meditation, etc. Sure these matter. But the ‘real’ reason is more like ‘I have to run’.
That ‘have to’ feeling comes from the way running is part of who I am. And from the search for those magic moments when during a run I enter the ‘zone’ of exhileration helped along by an endorphin rush – having overcome the elements, or the course or the competition or myself ……or all of these.
Ironically I first started running for a very different reason. At age 8 or 9, in those bygone days when we made our own way to and from school, I started to run the half mile home. My aim was to catch the start of the BBC’s children’s TV progams – Playschool you have a lot to answer for.
It’s a love-hate relationship. There are days when I’m ready for a separation. And to allow room for another love in my life. Something that promises more pleasure, less pain. But I’ve stood by it, ‘for better for worse’, and I can’t imagine life without it.
It started when I was 14. I began running to get fit for what was then my real passion – squash. By the time I was 20 I’d hung up my racket. But not my running shoes. I got serious enough to do a marathon at 24. I haven’t felt the urge to do another one. But running had become a habit I couldn’t kick.
Over the years I have often asked myself why I keep running. Often it’s just plain hard work. There’s no glory since I win no bling. In fact, I rarely race. I’ve flirted with other ways of keeping fit. But running has always been the constant.
The good days, when I feel fit and strong, keep me going. And running marries well with my photography. But in the end it all comes down to needing to run. Which I came to realize was no bad thing when I married a mad runner. We don’t run at the same pace but we do run for the same reason. Because we don’t know how not to.
Perhaps Sir Roger Bannister hit the spot when he said:
“We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves. The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, ‘You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable.”