Before the advent of GPS we naturally gave directions using landmarks. “Straight through the village, up the hill and left just after the Red Lion”. But satnav has changed all that for the motorist and in many ways technology also changes the way we run. Kilometers are marked by a discrete beep on the wrist and pace information is always there to check.
But this weakens our natural connection with the landscape through which we run.
In trail races we more naturally use features and landmarks to measure our passage. Hard won mountain summits in classics such as The Three Peaks and The Old County Tops mark our progress. In the tamer landscape of the Surrey Hills the excellent G3 winter cross-country series sees two brutal climbs to the ancient hill top church of St Martha-on-the-Hill.
(The summit plateau of Helvellyn heralds the first peak in the Old County Tops. Photo: David Scard)
Even big city races can be more than just the sum of the mile markers. The New York Marathon has so much character because it passes through the five city boroughs. The Bronx is way more than 26.2 miles from Midtown Manhattan in feel.
Training runs are also much more satisfying when defined by their natural topography. Some of our staple routes include The Six Ponds, The Seven Hills, The Two Bridge and the Out-To-The-Gate Easy, Back Hard. Focusing less on distance and pace really frees you up to run in the moment and just enjoy the landscape we pass through. More and more running literature now taps into this spirit. For armchair reads after a long off road run Christopher McDougal’s “Born to Run” is now an established classic. Or published last year Boff Whally’s “Run Wild” is a rousing call to swap tarmac for trail. I would add my voice to theirs and urge everyone to ditch the gadgets and try to get off road, at least occasionally.
So it’s down to the canal, over the hump back bridge and onto the footpath…