Review of Running Free: A runner’s journey back to nature by Richard Askwith (2015 edition)
You know you’re a runner when you wonder what non-runners dream about. Running Free is about freedom and liberation from the commercialisation of the sport we love so much. Askwith’s writing is a thing of beauty, his passion for the sport evident from the first page.
This book is for you if you’ve fallen out of love with running.
It’s for you if you’re feeling ‘mergh’ about running.
This book if for you if you love running, with some handy hints on surviving running through fields with large animals!
This book is about embracing the sheer joy of running and everything it has to offer. Not the bling, not the race times and PBs, but being more awake to the world around – the changing nature of the seasons and landscapes, the thrill of mud and fields.
At the heart of Running Free is a deep concern for the commercialisation of the sport –
‘There’s no need for a running industry than there is for a tree-climbing industry or a hide-and-seek industry… Except, of course, that’s now how the modern world works’ (p12)
In saying this, Askwith himself understands the allure – those products that promise faster running, better recovery; those running shoes, the kit and everything that goes with this.
Another concern is with the subordination of real life to a virtual one. I’ve seen this echoed in questions on twitter – Strava didn’t record my run. Did I still run? Or even with the advent of virtual races. And I do this myself. I’m training for my first Ultra and it’s all about the distance. I did a marathon in training. While there was no bling and no finish line, I ran around a park to hit that final 0.2 so I could share the fact I’d done a marathon!
Pre 20th century, running was a sport of rural adventure and there’s some lamenting of this, I think for good reason – where adventure has become commodified and made safe. He notes a cross-country race where many complained about the rough turf and shallow mud – that many races, even adventure ones don’t allow us to engage in with the world as it is.
Askwith is proposing
‘…in preaching the gospel of ‘wild’ or ‘natural’ running, is that we try to free ourselves not just from the tyranny of the road or the gym but also from Big Running’s embrace.’
This book offers tales of alternatives – a way in which times and distances aren’t known, of running solo and with others, of ‘hunting with a clean boot’ (you’re the fox being chased by a friendly slobbery bunch of bloodhounds), of the hashers and the ‘man hunting’ races (no, not like in The Hunger Games).
The stories are discussed through the Ages of Running.
The 7 Ages of Running
1. Total novice – hesitant, embarrassed, still on provisionally committed and pleasantly surprised when a run can be measured in miles rather an metre
2. Zealot – you know you can and you feel better for it
3. Peak performance – General desire for self-improvement gives way to a yearning for ‘peak performance’; and kit
4. The challenge – Pit yourself against the most daunting challenge you can imagine – nature of the stuff is dictated by the challenge – seeps out to infuse the entire texture of your life
5. For it’s own sake – That you did it, not the time, not a medal – you run because you run, not ticking off achievements but doing things for their own sake
6. Joy – It’s a second childhood!
7. Yet to be discovered
Where are you on this list? For me, I skip between the ages based on my mood. And many runs have moments of wanting to go faster, being challenged, running for those moments where everything is just right in the world and I’m grinning like a mad woman running as fast as my legs with carry me!
And for when you’re running in those fields and embracing whatever the day or night has to offer
‘Remember: you can beat a sheep in a fight but not a cow or a horse.’ (147)