Running; Why to keep it tribal

Primitive pounding sounds. Rhythmical breathing. Screams of pain and exertion. Mud face paints. Hypnotic motion. A communal focus. A collective energy.

You can’t deny the tribal grit of fell running, can you?

We spend hours training, racing, and (possibly) Strava-ing, our time plodding up and down damp streets, through the woods, up into the hills, and all in the effort to gain a sense of accomplishment as a runner, as a person, as part of a community. We want to free ourselves, enrich ourselves, and to keep growing in the right places ahem, and yes the best way to appreciate, understand, and be motivated to do this is as part of something bigger than ourselves. Singers have choirs,  football fans have pubs, coal miners had brass bands, skaters move in shoals,  and runners have got clubs.

But why would I want to run in a group? I like running by myself. I run to be by myself, and I certainly don’t want to be seen with anyone in shorts that short. 

Running out by yourself is brilliant. Keep doing it. Within a few strides you soon remember the magical feeling of getting outside, and quickly forget the mardy nobhead former self you left on the settee a few minutes beforehand. It is rejuvenating and invigorating, and lets you enjoy the rest of the day with the smug sense of having done something productive, whilst all of your fat and lazy friends have barely managed to claw away another minute of life, drawing ever closer to their untimely deaths of drowning in cholesterol or from contracting SARs through their TV sets. If the after run glow of smuggary were a smell it would be freshly constructed Ikea Pinewood table and chair furniture. It’s that whiff of nature, the fresh opportunity that accompanies visiting a newly decorated coffee shop, office, or most commonly when going to Ikea, and makes say things like ‘Ooohh it smells like Ikea duck!’ and then go on to joke to your pal about how you bet the tables have a funny Scandanavian-sounding names like ‘Umjookka’, or ‘Skjegg’. So if running alone is so bloody mint you can almost smell it, why ever bother doing it with anyone else?

If running alone is bloody mint, and there are 6 of you who run alone now running together, this equals Bloody mint to the power of 6. Which is really bloody mint.

Running in a group is great for motivation, for finding new routes, to hear what everyone else is doing, sharing stories, talking about other runners, finding out about races, talking about running, sharing good views, talking about good views, finding out about races, talking about races, scouting out competition, having competitions, encouraging each other, and belittling one another. Do it alone and do it as a group. It’s good to mix it up.

After cycling my way into the lower ends of an overdraft in Brighton in the winter, reality beckoned in the form of a full time teaching job and relocation back to Derbyshire, where I haven’t lived properly since school. I never really liked school, so to go back to teaching in a school and in the area where I went to school certainly wasn’t my Plan A… or B. I know the area, and don’t think there’s anything worth going back for! I thought. But I was wrong. Slowly over last few months Derbyshire has transformed from a boring-place-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-with-nothing-to-do into a huge pastoral platform for running and cycling adventures, littered with paths, trails and hills galore and all largely unexplored until now!

And what’s the best way to explore these old new places?

As a group, we know place names, landmarks, and favourite spots, but it is the bits in between that offer so much. The perspective of A to B is very different from a car than as to on foot. These same perspectives are different from one person to the next, and we can learn from each other.

I run from home to Matlock following the canal as it’s the only way I know. The canal winds along the Derwent Valley, with rail, road, river, and canal all parallel and it is nice. At the club I meet Shelly D for the first time in a long while, more likely to have bumping into one another at the other end of a lung bong than at an Athletics Club until a few years ago, it is good to see a familiar face.

A couple of weeks later we embark on Shelly D’s Magical Mystery tour, and run a 14 mile route nearly all on completely unknown and fresh foot paths around the limbs of the Derwent Valley. Through the dilapidated mills of Lumsdale, across the open fields and upwards to Riber Castle, over looking the town, a quick footed descent through Bow wood, across and up over The Heights of Abraham, looking down onto the cable cars, and a blast down off Masson Hill 1000ft down …  ‘Masson Your Seatbelts’ – a competitor for best Matlock Strava segment name. A few months later and with knowledge of these new ways I haven’t ran the canal way to town once, instead the Magical Mystery Tour, alongside a load of other run outs in the months since, as the group of runners grows, has given enough options to make a new way round each time.

Running new paths in old places brings fresh life, and with that comes the excitement to keep on the look out for more. It’s good to break the pattern, to go in a different direction out the front door every now and then, and running with a group can give you both the knowledge and confidence to take a different path and to find new things. As you run with more people, others join, and the opportunities keep on growing.

The Keswick AC Mens team won the British Championships a couple of weeks ago at Tebay, for the first time in a good few years. As my first claim club it is great to be part of something bigger that is doing so well. As well as finding loads more new paths, and evidence that Tebay is more than just a service station, the race was proper hot, with a stinking great hill 6 miles in, and had everyone crawling on the hands and knees for 20 minutes before flying down the last couple of miles to the finish. The heat combined with hills took a few victims at the finish line, with emergency Haribo and coca cola rations brandished to those who were suffering the worst. I used another Keswick vest ahead as pacer.  The speed of everyone at these championship races is incredible, and to see the Keswick AC team winning the Championships in three straight race team wins was great, and shows the quality of the group. I had a good race and ended well, saving some juice to overtake a few on the final hill, a couple of minutes behind the 5 counters for the team. Being part of a team gives you the motivation to keep training, to have something to aim for, and to share in the celebration of the good things that happen.

Alongside this I won a prize with Trail Running Magazine. Got to keep keep tabs on training for a specific race, and got a load of free running clothes to wear whilst doing it from Inov-8. Me and Ben Mounsey of Calder Valley Fell Runners, inov-8, and general fell running successes, have shared some discussions on future plans for running. Kindly, Ben will be an ad hoc coach via the wonders of email and help me plan training towards the Lakeland Trails 15Km race in Keswick at the start of September.

I never bother with much/any structure to training so it will be good to try a more focused approach. The challenge with fell running is that to be up there you need to be strong at such a wide discipline of running, short, long, fast, slogging, stamina, climbing lots, runnable courses, navigating and more..

In aiming for specific races and tailoring your training towards one thing/distance/type of route I wonder if this promotes a tunnel vision approach to training which may or may not be wholly beneficial for the season. There are both positives, as it prepares you well for your goal/target race, and a negative things in that it may (or may not) detract from your performances in other areas. For example would a focus on short fast races compromise longer races, which require more stamina focus, and vice versa. I’m not that bothered really and guess then the overall aim of my training is to be confident and well-prepared in order to be able to run the best that I can run in any race at a given time (which seems to be all the time at the minute with loads of races on). The 15km trail race is an opportunity to measure the success of that mission. On a more long sited level, eventually it would be good get to the standard to count for the Keswick team in a championship race.

The running community is rich in knowledge and experience, and through running with friends, different clubs, in lots of races, and now with extra guidance for aspects of training from Ben and other folk, this is a time of opportunity.

Above and beyond the main aim of running is to always enjoy it, carry on getting out lots, and to keep on keeping it tribal.


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