Stephen D’Evelyn on Running as Doing

Today is middling sort of bright but overcast day, not warm yet not cold. There are lots of Chinese students around. The clock ticks. Pent up energy makes your feet tap.

This morning I went running as I almost always do unless it’s raining really hard. Recently I’ve had to contend with a gated fence which a school from a nearby neighbourhood has put up around our park ostensibly to make it safe for its pupils to use for sports.

I have found myself running back and forth around what the school’s headmaster in official communications has called ‘the perimeter’. Today I found the one way into the park. This did mean I got lost and missed that entrance as a way out. But running can be like that, a regular habit and task which can be interrupted by unexpected change.

When you don’t quite match what the rest of the world thinks is normal, such interruptions may come more frequently or be harder to absorb.
Running is perhaps none of those routine things that I give regular attention to. Without it a sedentary job with spikes of stress would leave me both not at all physically challenged let alone anything like physically fit but also rather deprived of fresh air, birdsong, and branches snapping in my face. (Since the erection of the fence my route around the perimeter has featured a particularly tricky branch.)

I don’t quite run to make myself feel good or make myself feel I’m doing something for my fitness, though those are part of it. I run because I love the energy of the morning, the absolutes of gravity, the earth pushing back against my feet, the air cooled by expanses of grass, and I run for love of my wife.

There are other ways to make myself feel better. Sometimes we talk to make ourselves feel better. Supposedly British workers stay at the office longer than colleagues elsewhere in Western Europe. But national productivity levels don’t suggest that longer hours mean more stuff happening. Not that all of what people do in those long hours is talk let alone talk to make themselves feel like they’re doing something. But there’s a balance to strike between doing things for the sake of it and keeping on top of mundane tasks that need regular attention.

Now running is not talking or writing. Nobody is obliged by social convention or where they are sitting relative to you to feel they have to do much if you are running. But maybe talking to feel like you’re doing something and running to make yourself feel you’re looking after yourself can be similar.

One alternative to keeping up the sppearences of doing something is to take the proverbial step back and focus instead on making the connections and developing the ideas that will really make things change. That seems wise. Of course if your ways of not fitting what is viewed as normal mean that the routine tasks everyone has to do take longer it’s much harder to choose to spend more time on those productive activities and less time on the busy work.

So maybe it’s as important or also important to go outside, to let that middling bright overcast early afternoon light wash over you, hear the Chinese students talking cheerfully, listen to the birdsong and wonder if it’s really quite right to hear that at the start of March. Maybe those moments of running through the dark, trusting one footfall following after the other, can open new ways of doing things or new things to do. But more than doing maybe it’s about being as doing, being the runner running, running back along the perimeter and finally through the gap into the park.

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