“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”
― Haruki Murakami,
I love running. I love the “homemade void” as Murakami (one of my favourite authors) describes it – for me that’s the place where worry disappears, thinking itself disappears and you just put one leg in front of the other and enjoy a peacefulness that I find very difficult to recreate in any other environment. I don’t believe I have ever felt worse after a run than I did before it, even after the grueling 20+ milers when training for a marathon (a marathon that injury ultimately prevented me from participating in).
I’ve come a long way since the weary post-work treadmill sessions in my early 20’s when 3km made me want to throw up. I still remember the smirk on my old housemates face when I came home exhausted but elated that I ran for a couple of miles non stop. It’s safe to say I am not a gifted runner, each milestone whether it be distance or time has come as a result of hard work. Moreover a lifestyle throughout my 20’s (and early 30’s) that did not necessarily incorporate the right food or the right amount of sleep no doubt slowed me down somewhat. And so even after well over a decade of running regularly I would still only classify myself as a fairly mediocre runner. But for me the joy of running has always been that homemade void and that feeling afterwards. Distances and times make for satisfying targets, something to aim for, but my favourite runs have been when I leave the watch, the headphones, the iPhone at home and just run for the simple joy of it.
“When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. This is a part of my day I can’t do without.”
― Haruki Murakami,
So when it came to this trip I wanted to make sure I ran at least once in every place we visited. So far I’ve managed to do that – sweaty runs along Copacabana, barefoot beach running in Barra da Lagoa, smoggy traffic dodging in Porto Alegre, the fresh mountain air of Gramado, bracing stormy sea front runs in Montevideo, more beach running in Punta Ballena and finally the road running of Buenos Aires that culminated in a 10km race last week – each place we have visited has offered something unique when seen through the lens of running.
Out of all those places I think those barefoot beach runs in Barra da Lagoa were my favourites. Out of season for tourists the endless beach was pretty much deserted making it a perfect place to lose yourself in a run. It also appealed because for some time now I’ve been making a transition to minimalist running. This is a running style borne from the idea that humans are natural runners and therefore don’t need huge cushioned trainers to prevent injury. What they need is proper form which starts with landing on the forefoot and not the heel, and to do this you take away the shoe, or at least wear ones with minimal support / cushioning. With no shoe the running form immediately and naturally adjusts to landing on the front of the foot which results in less shock traveling up the leg and therefore less chance of injury. In the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall the author says to watch how children run for a great example of a pure, natural running style – at a young age they haven’t been conditioned to wear bulky or heavily cushioned trainers and instead run how nature intended them to. So when the chance arose to go one step further than my minimal running shoes and go completely barefoot I took it, absolutely loving the feel of the sand beneath my feet.
― Christopher McDougall,
After further beach runs in Uruguay it was very much shoes back on for our month in Buenos Aires. From a bit of research it was clear there was a great running community in the city, despite the fact the city itself does not lend itself particularly easily for running – the grid system and heavy traffic makes it difficult to get into a rhythm. That said there were a number of races taking place while we were there and I decided I’d have a crack at one of them – the Nuevo Dia 10km race that took place on 30th October in the suburb of Ramos Mejia. With our recent increase in alcohol and red meat consumption the reasonably straightforward distance of 10km represented a nice middle ground that wouldn’t interfere too much with our day to day lives. That said I have only ever raced a few times so my natural competitiveness made me determined to go into it at least partly prepared and ready to put in a half decent shift.
Training wise the only real difference I made was to fit in two longer runs – one on each of the Sundays before the race. These amounted to around 60 minutes of running over a distance of approximately 13km. This was a great way to see the city and being early on Sunday morning the traffic was light and pretty much the only pedestrians were the ones on their way home after a night out – I would look at them somewhat enviously while they looked at me somewhat confusingly. With some shorter runs during midweek combined with a few home yoga sessions, I went into the day before the race feeling pretty good. Later that day, after several beers, a burger and a football match, perhaps I undid some of that hard work but I wasn’t going to let a race get in the way of what was our final weekend in Buenos Aires.
“Right before you head out running, it can be hard to remember exactly why you’re doing it. You often have to override a nagging sense of futility, lacing up your shoes, telling yourself that no matter how unlikely it seems right now, after you finish you will be glad you went. It’s only afterward that it makes sense, although even then it’s hard to rationalize why. You just feel right. After a run, you feel at one with the world, as though some unspecified, innate need has been fulfilled.”
― Adharanand Finn,
The race started at 9am so we all (that’s my fanbase of Claire, Amber and Claire’s Mum Christine who was visiting at the time) jumped in a cab and made our way to the rather remote suburb of Ramos Mejia early on Sunday morning. As soon as we arrived it was clear this race was a pretty big deal, even at 8:15am there were hundreds of people milling around including runners of all ages and sizes, as well as a big stage where in true Argentine style someone had turned the music up to a deafening roar. With my timing chip collected I made my way to the start line, eyeing up some of the competitors to make sure I wasn’t going to finish last.
When the 10km started I set off trying to fall into a good, early pace, my strategy of “start a bit too quickly and then hang on for dear life” ringing in my ears. My fans cheered as I ran into the early Buenos Aires sunshine and I took immediate encouragement from some early overtaking, sensing my position was near the front of the field. I had no idea of my pace until I got to the first km marker when I looked at my watch and it said 4:05. This was absolutely in line with going off too quickly and holding on and while I felt strong I knew things were going to get ugly by maintaining this pace.
The race took us round an unremarkable neighbourhood – the main positive being that it was completely flat. It was however very clear where to go and the stewards and police were doing a great job of holding up traffic, much to the clear anger of the drivers who seemed apoplectic that they had to wait a few moments for the big gringo to saunter by.
I went through 5km in just under 21 minutes, and while this year I have ran that distance in sub 20 minutes I was already starting to feel a little tired. Between 6km and 7km my early zest had all but gone and I was already hanging on. I’ve ran 10km hundreds of times but when you’re going at a race pace it’s always in the no mans land of 6km-7km when things get a bit tough. You’re too far from home to be thinking of finishing yet all you can really think about is how good it’d feel to not be running. At this point I tried to follow the advice of the experts and repeat a mantra in my head. Apparently (when trying not to poo her pants) Paula Radcliffe thinks of her children or counts to 100 and then starts again. I tried thinking of Amber but it didn’t work. I tried thinking of nice places I’d been to or how lucky I was to be doing this race here in Buenos Aires with my family supporting me. That didn’t work either. In the end I settled on thinking about how messed up the world was what with Brexit and Trump and Will Young leaving Strictly Come Dancing. And this actually worked for a while. But not for long, and in the end all I could really do was grit my teeth and push for home.
“Suffering is humbling. It pays to know how to get your butt kicked.”
― Christopher McDougall,
Annoyingly the finish line came into view just after the 9km marker so for around 4 long minutes I could see the finish line but I wasn’t over it. This was probably meant to motivate people but I just felt angry. The mood was lifted however by the sight of Claire, Amber and Christine willing me over the line, which I later found out I crossed in 42:23. With all the caveats – very intentionally laid out in this post – ultimately I was very happy with the time, pretty close I think to a PB.
Moreover I discovered I had finished 18th out of a field of 205 and 2nd in my age category (30-34). I was really pleased with the outcome and also very grateful to have participated in such a well organised and fun race. It was painful and I pushed myself pretty much as hard as I could but what is running if not that search for your limits. And with Patagonia coming up my running will now move into the mountains… I can’t wait.