A Sense of Place

By Iffley Road. Posted: May 23, 2013

There’s a great scene in Apocalypse Now when the young GIs head up river to a backdrop of garish flares and a soundtrack of Purple Haze. Between them Coppola and Hendrix serve up one of cinema’s most intense scenes.

As runners we naturally experience similarly intense and memorable scenes and moments of great sensory awareness. Such experiences can be on an epic or micro scale, lasting or fleeting. Often they are visual, yet at times the other senses come into play.

Often, when running, I find myself really starting to notice the micro details of my route. The bright flash of a kingfisher glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, gnarled tree roots under foot or the smell of hot summer gorse blossom on a North Norfolk costal path. Often these are just fleeting impressions, gone by the end of the run.

Sometimes even small impressions can last way longer. I’ve one vivid micro memory from the late eighties that’s still with me. It’s of wintry sun glinting off a frozen puddle on country roads outside Maidenhead. It was one of those mornings when everything clicked – the running seemed effortless and I was fully in the zone. (The fact this was one of my very few sub 60 minute 10 milers doubtless helped cement the memory!)

In his excellent book “Run Wild”, Boff Whally writes at length about his impressions from a lifetime’s off road running. He also remembers countless impressions, large and small, tactile as well as visual. Above all he relishes a sense of connectedness with the land he runs through. “The hugeness of it all and how I’m part of it, my mucky legs connecting to the ground as if they were shoots growing up from it.”

It is that sense of hugeness that often stays with me. Sometimes the setting may be urban, such as the sprawling panorama of a North Paris industrial zone viewed from the high vantage point of a local park.

 (Illustration by Fergus McHugh)

Bookending this is an image from the end of a long day running in the hills. The occasion this time was a 2-day mountain marathon in the lakes. Footsore and exhausted we crested a high ridge to see a necklace of head torches, their owners invisible, descending to valley bottom and the first night’s campsite.

For me these intense moments, memorable or fleeting, are a massive part of why I run. A chance to escape the routine and truly live in the moment, fully immersed in the environment I run through.

Many of us strive to live “in the moment” but it’s not that easy. Running certainly helps.


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