Shouldn’t running be easy?

Humans have long legs which are an adaptation to enable us to run to chase prey or escape danger, so shouldn’t running be easy? But although I have been a runner since childhood and somehow need to do it, distance running has always been hard work: in fact I think that running up hill is one of the hardest forms of exercise. I have long suspected that people who become long-distance runners are mostly bad at ball games: after all, if exercise can be more fun than pain and can also make you friends through your club or team, why would you just go for a long, lonely run?

For me, the answer is that, while I am no good at ball games and hated football at school, I actually like putting on a pair of running shoes and just heading off to explore my surroundings. There’s no cost, and can be great in a new place as I get to find out something about where I am and see a bit of how people live. In the countryside, I enjoy the landscapes and the wildlife and I can’t understand why people run plugged into earphones or pods as they are missing out on bird song and their minds are distracted from what is around them. No doubt the distraction also takes their mind of the pain of running.

In previous decades a run was a run, without stopping or walking as the focus was exercise and speed was a factor (am I getting faster?). At the advanced age of 73, I’m very fortunate to be able to run at all, so I am less focused on speed and my running is normally broken by little spells of walking, stretching or even admiring the scenery. I have also discovered that my regular runs (2–3 times a week) can be useful.

A couple of days ago I set off on my normal 5 Kms circuit through our local countryside taking with me a pair of secateurs, a plastic bag and my mobile phone in a pouch. I am always on the lookout for butterflies and dragonflies in the summer months as I record them on so am contributing to our knowledge of these insects across the country. The mobile can also be useful for taking a photograph of something interesting, or an insect to identify later.

Just below our village, I reached a narrow stretch of footpath which gets invaded by bramble (blackberry) shoots which are very fast growing and can quickly block easy progress. So I took out my secateurs and spent a few minutes cutting the long shoots back, while picking a few blackberries to eat. A little further on as I crossed the River Thame, I saw speckled wood and small white butterflies, and a couple of bright blue southern hawker dragonflies which I stopped to watch.

I cross the river twice on this circuit and I always stop on the bridges to check the state of the river and look out for fish, birds and insects. I have been working to protect and restore the river for nearly a decade and my observations, along with my photography, help me understand how the river is doing as the year goes round. This can be critical in recognising when there is a problem, for instance from pollution.

I note more butterflies on the way back and stop to talk to Angie, who runs cattle on some of the water meadows, about a problem she has solved on one of the footpaths. Then as I approach my village, I stop at a blackberry bush that I know has particularly good fruit and pick enough for a crumble pudding, storing them in the plastic bag.

So back at home I feel the better of the exercise and that feeling will last the rest of the day, and I’ve maintained my fitness level. I have enjoyed the scenery and monitored the insects which will contribute to our knowledge of them. I’ve opened a bit of footpath and built a relationship with a farmer whose pastures the footpaths cross.

It occurred to me that running can be much more than doing X kilometres faster than last time, and can be made more enjoyable and interesting while contributing to the greater good.

So maybe exercise doesn’t have to be bonkers after all!



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