Review by Ben Peel
As someone who came relatively late to running (my early thirties) and is a decade younger than the author (I also spent ten years living in London, where I began my running, before moving to the Lincolnshire seaside) I think I have progressed fairly rapidly through what Richard Askwith describes as the Seven Ages of Running and I am now into the fifth. That is like him I don’t wear a watch let alone any kind of high tech measuring device anymore whilst out on a solo training run or listen to music. Instead like the author I prefer to enjoy my natural surroundings and let my body and environment dictate the run and consequently unless I am doing a set route have no real idea of time or distance. Having said that I do still try to push myself on organised runs or on club nights as it is still pleasurable to gain a pb. However I am now at a stage of life where I may gain some improvement for a few years before it starts slipping back again but I am certainly not going to be challenging for any medals. Like Askwith I am also enjoying runs that go off the beaten track a bit more and like him I am lucky to live in a part of the country with it on my doorstep (in my case a coastal nature reserve).
In his enjoyable book which has a slightly more meandering air than the more tightly focused, Feet in the Clouds, Askwith argues the case for a return to simply enjoying running in its basest form rather than succumbing to the demands of what he calls, ‘Big Running’. Whilst I agree with his philosophy to a certain degree especially when the over-commercialisation of the London Marathon and Great Run series is considered I still think there is scope to enjoy different forms of running. We are not all lucky enough to have instant access to the country seeing as the majority of the population live in urban areas. I have enjoyed the 24 Hour Adidas Thunder Run as although it is a commercial enterprise it brings a community of runners together. As you are running laps at various parts of the day the course can change with the weather and temperature and each lap can be very different. Some of the most enjoyable runs I have done have been organised through the club I belong to such as long distance relays and our own version of a ‘Hound and Hares’. These have involved club runners of all abilities and have been more about the taking part than achieving times. Many local clubs in Lincolnshire put on some good inexpensive races over a variety of distances and terrains, which I would rather take part in and support than many of the commercially organised ones.
I also disagree with the author when it comes to barefoot running. Again its very much ‘horses for courses’ as I had a lengthy lay off with a knee injury before being prescribed running shoes to correct over-pronation and I also use corrective inserts in my everyday shoes. Since then, touch wood, I have not a serious injury that has required a long recovery. Where I do agree very much with Askwith is in trying to enjoy the moment of running rather than the outcome. Again that maybe is because I feel I am moving into the fifth age of running that he describes where pb’s seem increasingly less important as does the use of recording devices, using social media to share my every run and shelling out vast amounts of money on kit when I am not going to improve by any significant amount. Although he touched on it a bit when describing what brought him to running, a chapter on what inspires people to start running (wanting to get fitter, depression, escape etc) would have been instructive.
Running Free is an interesting and thought-provoking book containing much that I agree with and some that I don’t. I also suspect that younger runners or city dwellers may disagree with even more of it. Perhaps at the rate I am going it will not be long before I join him in the sixth age of running which as he says is rediscovering the simple carefree childish joys of running or running free.