To mark the publication day of Why We Run: A Story of Obsession, below is an extract from the prologue, entitled ‘Lacing Up’.
Christmas Day. The light from the west was sharp and watchful, a cusping breeze rose from the sea. It was not a long run, just far enough to feel myself moving at speed again. It had been over a week since I had last put on a pair of trainers and already they had started to fold in on themselves. As I broke into motion I found it hard to believe that for most of the year I had been running up to 18 miles a day, and here I was, back at the beginning, wading through the sludge of an early afternoon run. One hour. Eight miles. That was all.
I ran my first marathon in London in 2000, but it was not until I crossed the finish line in Paris six years later that I wondered what would happen if I kept going. That was where the question, why we run, first arose. Thirty thousand people had come to Paris to run through the city. Nearly 40,000 would be lining up later that month in London. For many it was an experience to be had once and only once. Thank you, but enough. For others though, 26.2 miles is not enough, and when their legs have recovered, the search begins again to find a longer, harder challenge.
In the end the question of why we run comes down to what happens when you head out on your Sunday-morning run, with your family asleep and keep going. Where does that road lead to? An increasing number of people know that it gets you at least as a marathon. And then there is a void. What happens after that?
I have no special knowledge, no privileged position. I have not won a single race in my life, nor can I run particularly quickly, but what I have learnt is that I have a capacity to run for a very long time without stopping. And what I have seen is something that few people have witnessed and even fewer have reported. If you want to know where that road leads, read on. If not, then you are already stronger, braver and more knowing than I ever thought I was capable of being.
Some will be familiar with this journey, in its various guises, already. All who have put on a pair of trainers will know the sense of freedom than comes with fresh air on the face miles from home. If you don’t know this already, you soon will because, in the end, while I can show you where that road leads, to know, to really know, will require you to take to the road yourself.
As for the rest, they may never understand. They will look on with complete incomprehension at the idea of making life harder still, although they might listen politely before turning away. If you have told this story already, nearly all who listened will have thought you were mad. They will almost certainly have asked: what is the use?