Running is such a simple sport. Just lace up your £130 trainers, strap on your £400 GPS device, cover yourself head to toe in branded compression gear like some middle aged sausage and off you go. After of course waiting patiently for said device to sync to a £150 million satellite which itself is probably wondering where it all went wrong.
I was struck a couple of days ago, whilst ranting at random tweets, how the whole dynamic of what is arguably the simplest sport there is has changed in my lifetime. When I were a lad, apart from all this being fields and random binary code, all you needed to run was some Dunlop green flash and an old pair of rugby shorts. Running was something to be endured and though I grew up in a golden age of Irish running, when the likes John Tracey and Eamonn Coghlan were showing the world that there was more to Ireland than mindless sectarian violence and Guinness flavoured Leprechauns, I don’t remember anyone taking it all that seriously.
Even though Athletics was a genuine route to escaping the economically stagnant Ireland of the seventies, the Universities of the US clamouring for track talent and in return promising full scholarships to prestigious universities, it was still seen as just a hobby. It didn’t garner the same respect that hitting other farmer’s sons with sticks like Hurling did. Not for athletics the kudos of your lad turning out as reserve winger for the school third side and it certainly didn’t provide fathers with bragging rights that a county G.A.A jersey did.
Running was something to be suffered. It was punishment. It was what we did at school when the PTI was too hungover to deal with dozens of screaming hormonal Catholic boys desperate to get out onto the playing fields overlooking the girls’ school. He’d send us off on one of two routes knowing full well that we’d disappear round the back of the bike sheds for an hour, hastily thumb through some precious hedge porn and then wander back in, suspiciously dry of face and lumpy of trouser.
Running was what you did to get fit for proper sports. A means to an end as it were. It was the domain of returning from injury Gaelic football players and desperate to lose pounds housewives. It was a guilty secret to be indulged in the early morning and after dusk. Like a drunk nipping at a flask mums squeezed themselves into sweatpants and toddled around the block, calling out to an imaginary lost dog if the neighbours happened to see them.
So how have we gotten from there to where we are now? How have we gotten to a place whereby doctors, scientists and intellectuals define themselves not by their achievements in industry but by their pb over 26.2 miles? How has the simple act of locomotion transcended sport to become something much more? For the vast majority of practitioners it’s no longer a single simple thing. It’s no longer a means to lose weight, or increase fitness or longevity. It’s become more than the sum of its parts and to ask someone to define it is as difficult as asking them to describe air. It just is.
But we try. Oh lordy how we try. We squeeze thousands of words from the most mundane of runs, every footfall seemingly deserving of its own syllable. We document in blogs, Facebook posts and Twitter. We Pinterest routes and Strava them in case others don’t believe they happened. We filter the world around us and view it through that Instagram prism as if its natural self wasn’t enough. I’ve done it. I do it. And the likelihood is that if you’re reading this you do it too. We navel gaze and dissect and worry that what we’re doing isn’t enough.
But when all is said and done we run. Much like I did in my youth, much like I hope I will for years to come. Whether it’s green flash or Hokas, Garmin or an old school logbook nothing really has changed over the years. It’s still one foot in front of the other until completion. Though clearly if it’s not on Strava it didn’t actually happen…
Gary Dalton is a rugby loving, crime fighting, white Irish Muslim ultra runner. Despite all this he's not a complete eejit.
Gary is originally from the west of Ireland and can't actually remember when he moved to London - he blames a heavy diet of being tackled by prop forwards and potatoes for the memory loss. He hates going out for runs, canals and borderline hypothermia and loves ice cream and going out for runs.