Baby we were born to run, sang The Boss. It is perhaps the most natural form of exercise, and a ‘free’ sport, when all you need is a half-decent pair of trainers and, if you’re a woman, adequate support. You slam the front door, throw down whatever kind of run you feel like, and you’re done, basking in the glow of knowing you are keeping your body healthy. So when in the hell did running become so frigging complicated?
Recently I was listening to a podcast in which the interviewee proclaimed that tying your laces in the right way can make a difference to your feet and hence your running. Great, another thing to check if I’m doing wrong, I thought. But then I realised: why should I care about this? I’m hardly an elite athlete, with only eight parkruns under my belt, and I only started running last year. Is tying my shoelaces differently going to magically lead to a flurry of PBs?
The truth is that in our quest to improve our running - and let’s face it, sometimes this is all that motivates us to slam that front door - we look for things we think will give us the edge. When I began running I went to Decathlon, told the sales guy I was just going to do some jogging, and he pointed to a cheap pair of trainers. I bought them, used them without bothering to track their mileage, and they gave me no problems (I’ve still got them).
But when I decided to take running seriously, having set my heart on a half-marathon, I headed to an independent run shop and had my first ever gait analysis, then bought a more attractive and expensive pair of trainers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Brooks, and don’t regret the purchase. But being completely honest, they don’t feel much different to run in than the Decathlon Kalenjis.
When you become a runner you become part of a community with its own languages and norms. If you want to ‘run properly’ and enter races, then you probably need a Garmin, foam roller, gels, head torch and so on. And do you know what, I now have all those (I spent some time puzzling over why anyone would need a vibrating foam roller).
But having these things doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily a better runner. Ok, the head torch is useful for winter runs, but I had no idea which one to buy, and just picked the one that looked the nicest (mmm, olive headband). Similarly, I have only ever followed the instructions of a nice American lady who recorded a video in 2017 - the first Google hit when you look up ‘how do you use a foam roller?’
I still don’t know how to programme my Garmin properly. I only recently realised what the acronym ‘WU’ stands for. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do with vaseline during races. A lot of the time, I don’t know if I’m doing things the ‘right’ way; such are the perils of a solo sport.
Luckily, I have Coach, so I don’t have to worry about a training plan, and realistically that’s all that matters. I am also allowed to ask him silly questions, so I texted him to ask about the shoelaces. Plainly confused by this out-of-character query, he simply replied that they shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. So if Coach isn’t fussed how my trainers stay on my feet, then I reckon I don’t need to sweat the small stuff.
Mary Douglas ( @maryjaynedouglas )