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What is it about running?

I asked my friend Lawrence about his recent(ish) conversion to the religion of running. Here's what we talked about:

Tell me some things.

Sitting comfortably?

Tell me what is it about the running.

I know what you mean, and I'm still not sure.

Do you run to and from work now?

No, it's about 9 miles - but I have been thinking about it. As I was training for the marathon it seemed like a good idea, but I hate running in the mornings and my route would take me through Elephant & Castle and I'm not a 'Jump Runner' or whatever it is Channel 4 decided to call them. I cycle every day though.

Do you think about running when you're not running?

Everything and nothing. On the longer runs I did/do get to the state when it feels very creative - the body is doing its thing repetitively and the mind gets the chance to wander. Inevitably you also think about running though as well, and your breathing, and why your foot hurts...

Do you feel different while running, or having just stopped running?

Running is a mind game, you have to play tricks with yourself to keep going. But as soon as you trick your mind it stops complaining and does as its told. When you stop, you feel deeply satisfied. You argue with yourself so much to do it at the end you just feel so relieved. There wasn't a single run when training for the marathon where afterwards I didn't feel great. Beforehand, terrible. Fear. Panic. Dread. And I definitely did get that 'runner's high' feeling. The first time I ran 15 miles, as I was running the penultimate lap round the park, I started singing Primal Scream's 'Higher Than the Sun' - at that precise moment I felt I could run forever. Every run since I've wanted to get to that spot again and again.

Has running replaced other activities in your life?

Only all the bad things really, but some things did get sidelined. It depends if you are running with a goal (ie the marathon) which I find much easier, or just running to be fit, where I find excuses. I stopped drinking for about 3 months pretty much which did stop me going out. I was also very tired all the time so was going to bed earlier. I think Jo [L's SO] found it a bit tough as I was less keen to be social. It also meant that my brother and I didn't talk about anything else for 3 months. So yes, actually it replaced everything.

Does running hurt?

Yes, a lot physically if you don't prepare. The trick is to run slightly longer each time, so when it hurts because you're tired and want to give up, keep going. Only for a bit, maybe 5 minutes. The mistake people make when they first start running is they run for about 20/30 mins, feel terrible and stop. But the body changes from aerobic to anaerobic respiration at about that time, so if they kept going they'd actually find it got easier and they could carry on for longer. It also hurts if you start too fast. The slower you start the better. As the Kenyan's say: "Let the race come to you" - which is something you should apply to every run.

Do you feel safe running?

Odd question. As a man I don't think things like that enter our heads. I very rarely run at night or early morning, so yes. But I ran a marathon, so whether I'm 'safe' mentally I'm not sure ;o)

The dedication was the hardest part believe me, and that's why running, or any exercise is a mental battle. I guarantee that after any exercise - once you've got your breath back - you feel a million times better than you did before. And that's what you have to remind yourself as you look outside and it's pissing down with rain and you're girlfriend is going back to bed with a nice warm cup of tea.

(11th May 2004)