It was true then. I was genuinely getting fat. It was bound to happen I guess. When you hit your mid-thirties, either you eat less, exercise more — or expand outwards.

Admittedly that last option was quite tempting. I remembered a conversation I had with the veteran sports journalist Steve Bunce during a late-night drive from Oxford to London. ‘Let me tall you something Vass,‘he intoned in his inimitable North London bark, ‘I’m getting older, I’m getting wiser, I’m getting fatter… and I’m getting happier.’ Well who doesn’t want to ‘get happier’, even if it does mean buying some new, elasticated trousers?


These days I have moments when I simply love running, when I’m out on a run and realise there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. But there are also days when simply getting one foot in front of the other is an issue. When you train hard there are always going to be tough times when you almost need switch off, or literally just focus on one foot in front of the other to keep going.

But then there are days when time passes really quickly, and it’s my time to think and get my head in order. Sometimes when I run, that;s when I think things through, and sort things out in my mind. But sometimes I’m running and thinking about nothing at all and I;m just in the moment, enjoying the experience.

… I don’t remember the first time I was ever on a run and suddenly thought, ‘I’m really loving this’— but what I loved from the very beginning was that sensation of feeling alive and being in tune with everything.


Joss Naylor, MBE

And what I love about running I think is the tranquility. When you are running well and just floating along, it’s one of those magical feelings. You can’t really describe it. When you’re running on a full stride and you’re letting your feet drop, it’s just something out of this world, It’s one of those feelings that’s pretty difficult to describe to people. A lot of people don’t run right. If you’re running at full stride and let your feet drop… your legs don’t stiffen up the same. You get that sort of mythical sensation and you run and run and run, and just really enjoy it without taking a lot of energy out of yourself. You get to a certain stage of fitness and I just find myself thinking, well, how lucky I am to be here really. It’s such a beautiful part of the world. We know the weather isn’t always good in the Lake District, but even on a wet, bad da, those were the days I used to train because I couldn’t get on to the other work.

I’ve been trying to remember how long it took before I started to enjoy a run, any run, to any extent. Relishing the virtuous aftermath, that’s the easy bit, it’s instantaneous. As I never tire of telling anyone who’ll listen — _you never regret a run—. But when you start enjoying them?

I’m not sure you ever do have a bells and whistles ‘Eureka’ moment. I think what happens is you slowly start to embrace the fact that running has become part of your life. You appreciate that you’re no longer out of breath after climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift. You welcome the slight burn in your legs which proves you ran hard yesterday. You relish having more energy in the morning, the fact that you need less sleep, that your libido seems higher. And mostly, mostly, you just love the fact that you can basically — not actually, mind you, but basically — eat whatever the hell you want.


Steve Cram, CBE

Right from the very beginning, what I loved about running was the idea that you do it on your own terms — you go as fast or as slow as you want to. That’s one thing that really drew me to the sport. The other, obviously, was being quite good at it.

So what is so good about Mo’s running gait? I mean, he looks like he’s running on wheels and it’s a thing of great beauty to behold, but there’s also science behind the poetry. …

  1. No wasted energy
    The hips and shoulders stay level, while the legs move straight forward — making for a very efficient gait. Minimal energy is lost going sideways or up and down. There’s also no sign of either knee collapsing inwards, even at the end of a race when fatigued.

  2. Hang time
    Nobody was ever injured in mid-air, so they say. And the ‘stance’ time, the amount the foot is in contact with the ground, is very short. Again, this minimises energy loss.

  3. Mid-foot strike
    When the food does land, it does so with the ball rather than the heel. This reduces impact on the ground, essentially making for a run that’s lighter on the feet.

  4. Cadence
    Not how, but where the foot lands: in this case just in front of the centre of gravity with the shin almost vertical — meaning minimal momentum is lost as the body travels over the foot to be ready to push off. This in turn allows for a high cadence, or leg turnover, increasing speed.

  5. Arm swing
    Yes we’re back to the arms. They’re unusually high, but bent at a perfect 90 degrees. This allows for excellent elbow drive.

  6. And relax
    Everything seems effortless: hands are open, shoulders loose and face muscles relaxed (compare and contrast to many athletes who clench their fists, hunch forwards and lock their jaws with the effort of it all). And as most sprinters will tell you, relaxed muscles go quicker than tense ones.


Donovan Bailey

As a child, you’re only really trying to run. Or actually, you’re just trying to beat your opponents. But professionally, there are definitely phases in which you run. You have to understand gait. You have to understand your diaphragm. You have to understand breathing. You have to understand every single thing about your body. Living, breathing, and dedicating your focus and essentially your life, all of it to the sport. It can be difficult sometimes.

I discover that Paul is a fanatical runner. On New Year’s Day 207, he decided to go for a run. He did the same on January 2nd. And January 3rd. And then again on the 4th, 5th, 6th… Before long, he realised it had been ages since he hadn’t run on any given day, so he decided to try to fill the whole of 2007 with 365 runs, and not let a calendar day tick by without adding at least one run to his diary. So he did. He simply ran every day. Every single day, through rain, wind, sun, snow, illness and injury. He established a labyrinthine set of rules for himself, but basically (1) every run had to be outside, and (2) every run had to last at least 15 minutes.


We obsessive runners are always slightly injured, and we prefer not to dwell on the fact. Because yes, if we stop to think about it, it is a worry what we’re doing, in the long term, to our feet, ankles, knees and hips. And we do notice those occasional newspaper articles suggesting that we could be doing ourselves more harm than good. If we really paused to consider it all too closely, we might think twice before heading out on that next run.


Nicky Campbell

I still try and run three or four times a week. It just makes me feel better. It opens my mind and I do a lot of creative stuff, writing, music, film editing… and if I’m stuck on a problem I go for a run, come back, and I’ve solved the problem. I’ve written loads of articles when I’ve been running. I’ve written them in my head and then rushed home and put them down. It’s also the best way to stop feeling tired, the best way to give yourself a bit of va-va-voom.

I love running with my dog now, Maxwell. We run on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, we do six miles together. And a bit of ball work (he chucks the ball, I run for it!), we come back, I have a up of coffee, he lies beside me and you know… that’s amongst my happiest memories.

One of the hard and fast rules of marathon running is not to eat anything you’ve never tried before on the night before a big race, just in case your stomach has trouble digesting it and it adversely affects your performance the next day. …
Well in our case, on the night before the big race, we didn’t actually eat anything we had tried before. The supper we enjoyed that night was strange, rich, enormous and delicious. We enjoyed the meal so much, it founded a tradition — since then, every time my cousin and I have travelled abroad for a marathon, the evening before the race we find the most eclectic local restaurant we can and gorge ourselves on huge quantities of food, the more bizarre the better. We know that one day we might live to regret it — but we haven’t yet. And more to the point, we don’t particularly care; these suppers are outlandish, outrageous — and the risk only adds to the enjoyment.


Sally Gunnell, OBE

The day I first realised that I could run fast, I was still very young, still at primary school. We were playing kiss chase in the school playground. There was some boy that I didn’t really fancy and I found I could run away from him. I just really remember thinking ‘wow, I’m quite fast.’

… it feels pretty rotten when it strikes. Like I;’m losing already before the day has even started. Everybody has their gremlins, and these are mine. I don’t think I’m particularly unusual, but the gremlins do need putting back in their box. People try loads of different things, some go to psychotherapists, others suffer from anger or addiction. But in my humble opinion, the quickest, surest, easiest way to improve your sense of self-worth is to go for a run.


Dr. Simon Kemp

Running involves absorbing load with each foot strike. Think about the legs as a chain. You need to make sure that you’re as stable at the contact of your foot with the ground and the junction of the leg with the pelvis as possible. In order to do that you need to be running in a shoe that makes your foot-ground contact as effective as possible. And if you have rapidly collapsing arches to your feet, if you’re a marked pronator, you may need a show that in some way limits that. Equally at the top end of the chain, where your thigh joins your pelvis, you need enough glutes and lower back /abdominal stability, for your pelvis to remain stable when you are weight bearing on one leg and the other leg is swinging forwards. This stability can be developed relatively easily with specific exercises. And when I get you to stand on one leg, what I;m doing is assessing both ends. They key here is that you may need to work on both ends of the chain and not just one end. …

People who have a strong core, well-conditioned glutes and legs that have been exposed to some resistance training are likely to be able to tolerate a running load better than somebody who’s trained on a bike or only done irregular yoga.

The type of running you’re doing, the distances and the type of training, it all plays a really important part in any nutritional advice I would give. But clearly, if all you do is a weekly 5K parkrun and you reward yourself with a burger and chips, what you’ll find is you inevitably end up putting on weight rather than losing it.

Also, there is an issue over health. If you’re going to be a runner and you’re going to have that sort of healthy lifestyle, then what you eat for your meals and snacks is vital. It’s important for immune support, because often when people start training heavily, their immune system begins not to function quite as well and they become prone to upper respiratory tract infections like colds. And there’s the injury risk when people start running and become quite enthusiastic quite quickly, building up volume without increasing it slowly, and if they have a poor diet it’s going to take them longer to recover because they don’t have the basic nutrients they need to repair bones, muscles and ligaments.


‘And for a classic 6x3 session (six intervals of three-minute sprints with three-minute jogging recoveries), you can look through your playlist and choose six fast songs, and six slow.
‘For instance, Running Free by Iron Maiden, that’s your classic upbeat, running-in-the-lyrics-type song. Perfect for a fast interval. Then pick a slow song, like Golden Brown by the Stranglers — bung that on for your recovery interval, and that will send the message to your brain to slow down, take it easy, relax.
‘The fast song with inspirational lyrics raises arousal, which is the emotional state that helps you push through the pain. The trigger then comes to slow down when the brain hears something relaxing, and you’re no longer trying to smash things out, you’re going as easy as possible. And one of the best bits of advice for runners is not to go too fast on the recovery intervals. Do the quick ones quicker, but then recover. Slow songs can help you do that. They condition the mindset to switch the priority from being high-end to low-end.


… do timed 800m repeats, twice round the track as fast as possible, with a 400m slow jog to recover between each one. Ten times. The idea, devised by a famous American running coach called Bart Yasso, is to convert your 800m times in minutes and seconds (3 mins 10 secs, sat) into hours and minutes (3 hours 10 mins) to predict your marathon finishing time. All things being equal, it’s spookily accurate. But the 800m sprints themselves are hell on earth.


Eventually I realised that running stops being pleasurable — and stops being a release of tension, stops being an escape, an act of discover and self-discovery — if you’re constantly stressing about how fast you’re travelling, what socks you’re wearing and how your heart is coping.
Of course it’s information elite athletes need to know. Running is their job. But for the rest of us, whether we;’re nipping out to burn some calories, enjoying a moment to ourselves or even preparing for a race, there has to be an element of pleasure, of diversion. And whichever way you look at it, whoever you are and whenever you’re running, the fact is that you could be walking. But you’re not. You’re running. Running when you could be walking. It’s simple and child-like and brilliant. The watch and the fear were keeping me away from that. They had to go.
As Leonardo da Vinci once said: ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.


Saturday 14 / 2
Upwey, Dorset. On the downs, 97 min hard — chilly, hilly, muddy, ruddy, lively, loverly! Had that marvelous bionic legs feeling. Valentine’s Day and I just love running!

Yes, yes, I know… Reading that back, I can see how corny it is. But I relish the fact that the mere act of running can inspire such elation. And anyway, you know what? I really do love running. I sometimes wonder what y life would be like without it. Simultaneously less strenuous but more stressful, if that makes sense. And worse. Definitely worse. Running seems to centre me and reminds me how lucky I am. Nothing like a 40 min blast around the river to clear your head. Conversely if I ever go a day or two without running, I tend to become somewhat grumpy. Unbearable so, my family might tell you. … as my kids put it — I’m either ‘hangry’ (with low blood sugar level) or ‘runpy’ (lack of a run grumpy).


It was during a family weekend away, a happy, early morning canter along the Seine taking in many of the city’s prime tourist attractions before any of them became crowded. Amazing how much of a city you can discover when you’re running. In this case, the Louvre, Jardin des Tuileries, Notre Dame, Sainte—Chappelle, Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, Grand Palais, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower… Nice place, Paris. Nice run.


… sometimes running can help to clear my head. I can start a run thinking about something, and I can end up thinking about something completely different. That’s the great freedom of running, how it can clear your head, definitely.


The perfect run

My perfect run would be to start in a small forest and up a small hill to get me going (you always want to start up a hill to get the muscles going). Then I’d run on top the top f a beautiful moor so I’ve go great views of the valley. And it’s a nice soft surface, a grassy surface. There’s lots of beautiful views and river crossing or two, and a lot of change in the scenery — a bit of moorland and a bit of forest, but all very soft underfoot. No music for me, I’m just taking in the birds and the environment and just thinking my own thoughts. No music, and no tarmac, all completely off road. And then it finishes down a little hill. That’s my perfect run. And your dinner always tastes a thousand times better after a run like that.



We’ll all set off together and before long one of the kids will kick on and the other will start falling behind, so one disappears off ahead whilst I have a pleasant jog and chat with the other. It’s all smiles at the finish, then straight to the local baker for croissants and home for a big family breakfast. And by 1030 on Saturday morning, while many families may still be dithering and lingering, we’ve taken the dog out, exercised together, eaten together (even the baby gets a croissant), and we’re ready for whatever the rest of the weekend has to throw at us feeling like we’ve already won. And if anyone gets a PB, we upgrade those croissants to doughnuts.


Tom Williams (MD, Parkrun UK)

… there;s a young man called Amir from the local community in Leeds. He was 12 years old when he showed up in the early days having seen us out of his bedroom window. I don’t know if he’d ever done any exercise before. But six years later, I was immensely proud to present him with his 250 T-shirt. So if you think about it, 250 Saturday mornings doing 5k runs, it means his entire youth, all of his teenage years, were punctuated by parkrun.


Treadmill power hour

It seems to be a cross between a tempo run and an interval session, and designed to increase speed stamina. Like the name suggests, it’s an hour on the treadmill — but split into twelve chunks of five minutes. Each segment consists of four minutes’ running a little too fast for comfort (in my case 15kph a a 2% incline), followed by a really quick minute (17.5kph). Repeat 12 times. That means you recover from each of the dozen near-sprints at around marathon race pace — and hat means it hurts.


These days, people don’t want more stuff, they want new experiences. When she comes to write about it in the relevant issue, she;ll describe the Coastal Challenge she completed as ‘a beguilingly beautiful adventure that will eat you for breakfast and spit out your battered bones’. And no wonder. A marathon a day for six days, with 10km of ascent — and all in 95% jungle humidity. Harder, the say, than the Western States 100-Miler where temperatures can hit 40 degrees. It costs around £200 to enter.

As Claire says: ‘People are searching for moments in life to cherish. Rather than getting a Porsche for their 40th, they’re seeking out amazing adventures. That’s one of the reasons trail running has become so popular, it’s more exciting than a German sports car. You’ll go to unforgettable places with amazing, like-minded people and make memories that you’ll treasure for life.


Maranoia: Marathon runners’ (usually irrational) fear of something going wrong in the days leading up to the race, like picking up an illness or injury. Maranoia almost always incorporates lavish hypochondria, and generally drives loved ones crazy.


‘Are you going to try a negative split?’
‘Hoping to, yes. How’s your taper been?’
‘Nightmare. With full on maranoia to boot.’
‘Yep, me too. I think I may have over-cooked my final LSR.’
‘I’m worried my Yassos have been getting slower.’
‘How many tempos have you done?’
‘A few. But I’ve been doing loads of fartleks with not enough recoveries.’


Jo Pavey

If you’re a runner you’re always a runner. I don’t think I’m ever going to retire completely from running — I’m always going to run because I love it. I love the way it makes you feel good about yourself, boosts your self-esteem and it’s fun to feel fit.


Colin Jackson

I never did any longer runs when I was competing, but these days when I do, it completely clears my head. I totally disengage and I enjoy my environment and the situation that I’m in. Again it’s about that rhythm. You know when you’re running and you’ve just gotten into a lovely tempo, and when the weather is lovely like it is today, and I go out for a jog in the early morning — because that’s the only time I would be brave enough to do it — that’s what I do. I can clear my mind and just go.


… having lived in the middle of Soho for over a year in my twenties, I know exactly where to get one. Bar Italia is a London institution: it’s been going since the 1940s, open 22 hours a day (they only close between 5am and 7am) and their coffee is top banana. There’s often a queue, even in middle of the night, but tonight I’m lucky and get served immediately. So I down a quick double espresso at the bar, wolf down a few biscuits — and feel ready to tackle the rest of the night.


Before I know it, it starts getting light again … There are other runners about by now, and suddenly I’m just normal again, just another bloke stretching his legs before work. But to me, it feels like I’ve been calmly watching over everyone, like a parent, waiting for the city to wake.


A clever man once game me some advice. You should, he said, try to get out of your comfort zone as frequently as possible, ideally every day. That way your comfort zone expands and you become more and more accomplished as a human being.


… join the other dozen or so dads on my street for our last-Thursday-of-the-month meeting in the local pub. These are usually reasonable tame affairs, but just in case…


I’m close enough to the finish to sense that I’m going to enjoy it when I get there. But I’m in way too much pain to enjoy it yet.


It’s tough when you’re a kid; your sense of time hasn’t fully developed so all the bad stuff, like double maths or your first 5k, seems it will go on, like forever!


It’s a far cry from the 1970s and ‘80s when I grew up and runners were viewed with mild pity. At primary school, I secretly used to enjoy the compulsory two-mile loop around the streets of suburban London during PE lessons. I would pretend not to. Everybody else was moaning on the way back to school, so I thought I’d better not admit that this running thing wasn’t all that bad. Because back then, certainly at my school, saying you enjoyed running was equivalent nowadays to admitting a predilection for reading texts in Latin — a bit impressive, but a lot weird.


It’s late afternoon in January and I’m running in Richmond Park with Holly the loony Labrador. She’s carrying a stick the size of an average human leg and looking very pleased with herself for having found it. People who catch sight of her point and laugh but she’s oblivious to the mockery and laps up the attention. Her tail’s wagging in windmills, and her nose is joyfully muddy from the recent exploration of a truly disgusting puddle. She’s also spent a happy half-hour running in and out of her favourite stream (it’s where she found the stick). She’s wet, she’s muddy, she’s out of breath, and she’s struggling along with most of a tree in her mouth. Life, if you’re Holly, simply does not get better than this.

As for me, I’m also covered in mud having tumbled over on a slippery slope. I’ve also just run through a huge, deep puddle and my left foot is both soaking and freezing. The icy cold has taken hold in my ears and fingers, and the biting wind is slicing straight through my supposedly windproof jacket. THere’s a low sun overhead temporarily blinding me, and I’m having to run faster than planned because I feat I may be late picking up my kids from school. Life, if you’re me, simply doesn’t get better than this.

As the poet Wendy Cope puts it (she’s talking about an enormous orange, but it may well have been running):

And that.. made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately…
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.