Out on Blackheath during Sunday worship. Runners cross one another’s paths as busily as the dancers in a Busby-Berkeley musical from the ‘30s. They all look like they are doing the same thing, shuffling along at various speeds. But running is like reading. A room full of readers may share what they are doing, but their experiences from the different things being read are chalk and ink. The linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure explained that for a language to function it needed to possess two aspects ‘langue’ and ‘parole’. The ‘langue’ is, for example, the sounds made by a voice, or the shapes drawn on to page. But the ‘parole’ endows these sounds and shapes with meaning, because it is the structure, or rules, in which these things become speech or an alphabet. Running is the ‘langue’; it is a kind of movement, nothing more. It is the ‘paroles’ that are different. Runners may be performing the same movement, but they are doing very different things.
One of the ways that runners measure how they do what they do is by ‘personal bests’ – the best time achieved over a given distance, or given race. This is what I would call sport, as it’s governed by context and competition (even if it is with oneself). There are lots of runners who don’t do this. They just want to get outside and play. They want to freewheel with their thoughts, garner enjoyment from movement for its own sake. So when people ask me how fast I do something, or what my personal best is, it makes as much sense to me as being asked how fast I read Bleak House, or Anna Karenina, or a poem. If someone asked you that, might you think that it is the quality of experience that measures the book? This is how I feel about running. These are my personal bests, runs I will never forget because of how they felt.
It is the quality of experience that matters to me – not how fast it happens.
Go slow – enjoy it as much as you like.