My running philosophy

Actually – it’s not really *my* running philosophy as such, but that of David Munk at The Guardian who wrote the article that follows. I sum it up by saying “I run because I love food”. David explores this topic much more eloquently than I,

A run is worth two pints and a bag of crisps

When I heard that Britain’s greatest explorer had collapsed on an EasyJet plane, I couldn’t help wondering if I might be next. After all, Sir Ranulph Fiennes was a man who has devoted most of his life to his body, fine-tuning it to cope with the most inhospitable of environments, winding it up to deal with the most stressful situations of physical hell. And he goes and suffers a heart attack. Not while planting a flag in a no man’s land, but while boarding a plane.

Aside from the obvious jibes about EasyJet, my first thought was: what hope is there now for the rest of us? Is it all worth it? Why bother enduring all that pain and exerting all that effort if your survival into old age remains a lottery?

I’m a marathon runner – in the sense that I have run one marathon and, given a glass of beer and a free ear, I will bore for Britain and a few small South Pacific nations on my training patterns: energy gel ingestion, shoe selection, toilet training for those long and lonely trots through the park.

After I achieved my staggeringly impressive 26.2-mile finishing time of four hours 38 minutes two years ago, I thought the whole running thing would come to an end. I thought I would slip happily back to my old life of cheese sandwiches, beer and the odd cigarette.

And how right I was.

But after a few weeks of hedonism, I came to realise that physical pain and ghastly, annoying exhaustion had somehow come to figure quite highly in my life. I was fit and I liked being that way. I started to pine for exercise.

Like an Ibiza clubber striving to relive a night of excess, I set out again on those long runs I used to do in the build-up to the marathon, when, after about an hour, rather than feel exhausted, I was buzzing. The feeling was great. The world was wonderful, Holloway Road was beautiful, I loved my newsagent. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a pure exercise high.

Now, this only lasted for a dozen or so minutes, but it was a great feeling, and one that I have subsequently tried to re-create on my Holmes Place gym treadmill. Every now and then I do get the buzz and I smile as I run. If this happens to coincide with Bargain Hunt on the gym TV, all the better.

So just for that occasional legal high, I guess the pain is worth it.

But there are lots more reasons. Plug the words “run until you are 80″ into your Google internet search engine and you get just one hit – a letter written to the Fort Worth Runners Club (est 1978) website.

The writer lists the following positives: “Running promotes a healthy lifestyle, discourages overindulgence, makes you more health-conscious, encourages good eating habits, and lessens your awareness of minor discomforts.”

I suggest ignoring all these.

Because in my book, running allows you to indulge. A good hour’s run is the equivalent of two pints of lager and a bag of crisps, or two cheese sandwiches if you’re running while you are at work.

Indeed, I think indulgence and the legal-high bit has secretly hidden behind my desire to exercise. I run to ensure that I don’t look like I think I would look like if I didn’t. For cheese and beer is a surefire visa to obesity.

Everyone’s reasons for putting themselves through exercise hell will be different, and no doubt mine will be frowned upon by some purists. And everyone will have different chances of surviving their own particular life regimes.

So when you hear about someone like Fiennes, and you ask whether exercise is worth it, you have to consider your own priorities. What do you want out of life?

Personally, I don’t run because I want to live longer. I run because I want to live better.

As the man from the Fort Worth website said – after getting everything else wrong – run not to add years to your life but to add life to your years. Hurrah.

David Munk, 10 June 2003