I was a barcode scanner at parkrun on Saturday. I didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoy marshalling (though I expect the runners were pleased to not have to endure my cheering, singing and cowbell ba-dingling for once; there's one girl who runs past me with her hands over her ears) but the upshot of it was that I wasn't stuck out on my own in the depths of the woods, and due to this I actually got to speak to people. I got talking to an older fella who is remarkably speedy and he did Saturday's parkrun in twenty-three minutes. He asked me how old I was and how long I'd been running and when I told him I was forty and that I only completed Couch to 5K in November, he sort of laughed and then told me to never expect to run a parkrun as fast as he can. The chap was nice enough and we had a lovely chat, but it just goes to show how every runner is different. I neither expect nor intend to ever run a 5K in twenty-three minutes, yet he, a clearly competitive runner, presumed that I was one too.
Every runner has their own reasons for running: exercise, weight loss, competition, health – both physical and mental, or simply just because they like it. I didn't plan to start running – it just happened one day – and it's safe to say I'm a tad addicted to it now. But the thing I'm addicted to is the way it makes me feel. I don't run to be fast, or to be speedier than others. I run because I enjoy being outside, breathing in fresh air (well, mostly fresh – the local sewage works stinks up parkrun with a savage bumfug every now and then), I love running while listening to my music, and most of all, I adore that sense of achievement and zen after a run. I ran eight miles yesterday lunchtime and I'm still buzzing my tits off about it.
|Rainy run, but this sweaty-faced Neanderthal-haired woman was mighty happy with herself|
The running part of Instagram is a thing of wonder. Twitter was always my thing but it's too shouty, preachy, judgy, argumentative and generally un-fun for me these days. Facebook and I have never really gelled; I no longer have the app or Messenger on my phone so I only ever check it when I use my laptop. But Instagram is nice. I've used it since it started and I have three accounts – a general one, a work one and a running one – and the running one is incredible. Not my actual contributions to it in the way of sweaty-faced, make-up free, bad-haired selfies (see photo above) but in its sense of community and the support that people give to one another. The people in my running Instagram feed are the running types who cheer each other on, thank race marshals and volunteers, smile at other runners they encounter, and help other runners if they're flagging, or if they've fallen over.
So bearing all that I've said in mind, why then do I sometimes feel rubbish about sharing my times and Strava or Garmin stats? Why, when I see a post from someone who has run the same distance as me but a good few minutes faster, do I feel a little bit disappointed in myself? And I know I'm not alone in this. I see people posting their run and then sort of justifying their time in the caption like they feel that they have to explain why they didn't run faster.
It's a weird conflict. I like to know how fast I can run but at the same time I don't actually care because the actual running itself is what's important to me, not the time. I've got my first 10K race on the 22nd and the word 'race' is irking me. I don't want to race – I want to run 10K in a race atmosphere and that is what I'm going to do. I think I gave my estimated finish time as an hour and ten minutes but to be honest, I just want to have fun and finish the thing.
At least twice a week I have to give myself a damn good talking-to with regards to Instagram, so I'm going to post that talking-to here so that if any of the eleven people who'll read this post are ever having a comparing-themselves-to-other-runners moment, they can read it too and consider themselves thoroughly talked-to as well. (And this isn't for the competitive runner who is obsessed with times and constantly bettering themselves; it's aimed at the everyday runner who sometimes feels a bit meh about their achievements.)
The Damn Good Talking-To
"You've run. You went and ran [insert distance] and that's bloody amazing. It doesn't matter how long it took you because [insert distance] is still [insert distance]. If you were an Olympic athlete, time would be important because it's your thing to be lightning fast, but you're not. You're you. So put the flipping photo on Instagram and be proud of it. Everyone in your Instagram feed is different and they are all at different stages of their running journeys. All those runners you follow are different ages, sizes, builds, and they are at various levels of fitness. Some have been running for years and others for months or just weeks. And yeah, I know your Garmin loves to tell you to 'beat yesterday' and all that, but sometimes you can't beat yesterday because today you might have a cold or a bad knee, or some period-related bullshit might be occurring, or maybe you are sad or stressed out about something. You're going to have good runs and bad runs but a run isn't bad because you didn't do it in the time you think you should have done it in, based on what someone on the internet ran it in. Remember that there's a damn good chance a new runner is looking at your photos and if they see you being down about a time that is currently out of reach for them, you might make them feel a bit disillusioned. (And if you are that new runner, please don't feel that way. This talking-to applies equally to you.) All that's important is that you are making the progress you want to make. And progress isn't always linear – there'll be ups, downs, setbacks and unexpected triumphs. Just keep going, keep being you and let others be them. Now, put the fricking photo on Instagram and don't you dare make an excuse for those run-stats because you're ruddy marvellous, you are."
Basically, you do you.
Running Tune of the Week
Two Of Us On The Run by Lucius
This song has very lovely lyrics if you're ever struggling during a run:
"There's no race, there's only a runner
Just keep one foot in front of the other
There's no race there's only a runner
1, 2, 3 even when you get tired
Just keep one foot in front of the other"