Why I Run – by Heidi Davies

So why do you run?

If you’re asking me that question, I bet 9 times out of 10 you’re not a runner yourself. To you, running is awful. You couldn’t think of anything worse than dragging your body weight around on your own two feet and trying to put your frame of muscles and bones into fast forward motion. To you, that would be a version of hell itself. Am I right?

Elan ValleyPictured above: Heidi training in the Elan Valley

“What!” I hear you exclaim “You actually enjoy putting your body through so much pain?”

“Don’t you get bored?”

“Don’t you get tired?” 

“Wouldn’t you rather just watch TV?”

“But, how do you actually enjoy running?”

Maybe you think running just isn’t your thing. I mean I don’t blame you; why would you even want to get out of breath? That’s just not any fun right? Life in your comfort zone is so much better isn’t it. At least you know where you stand, right?

WRONG!

I’m sorry to disappoint but I’m going to have to prove you wrong.

So why do I run? I’ll tell you why… let’s start from the beginning.

I run to make my younger self proud.

If you were to say to my ten-year-old self that I would become a runner, I’d have laughed before eagerly sticking my head back into the book I was reading. As a young child, sport just wasn’t my thing. I’ve always been a trier and tried and failed (miserably) to even catch a ball in Primary School; failing to even keep my eyes open when the ball came towards me. I sucked at sport and I always dreaded the PE lessons and games of rounders we were required to play. It was only natural that I would dread my first experience of running in a local primary schools’ cross country race. My young naive eleven year old self thought I was in for the worst experience of my short life so far. However, I surprised myself and actually enjoyed that initial thrill of trying to run as fast as I could around a boggy field. I found it a battle with myself as much as against the other children, which suited my slightly shy, introverted personality. This was it! I had found my true calling. I had pushed forward into the unknown on that one afternoon in my last year of Primary School and I haven’t looked back since.

Finish LinePictured above: THAT moment. Crossing the finish line to take the bronze medal in the European Mountain Running Championship, Arco, Italia, 2016

I run to discover the unknown.

For non-runners the unknown and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can be a scary, unnerving experience. Even more so when you haven’t actually pushed yourself out of your physical comfort zone since you were a child playing tag or such like on the school yard. The unknown is something I have come to love as a runner. As a runner the “unknown” is a glorifing experience. It’s the unknown that drives me to continue to put one foot in front of the other, over and over because I want to understand how far my body, mind and spirit is willing to go. I’m still grasping my understanding of this and every run shows me new possibilities.

Running teaches me that I capable of so much more than I ever thought before. Everyday when you lace up your trainers and step outside into the open air; there is always a question mark hanging over your head. Where will your feet take you today? How far will you go? How fast will you be able to push your body today? This is a question mark that I have come to love as it ensures the running experience is constantly new and refreshing. The world is your oyster. Even more so when you run; if only you have the belief in yourself.

The unknown (1)Pictured above: Running into the unknown

I run because that is what we were born to do.

Running is the most natural form of movement for the human body. It allows us to go back to our roots as a species; to a time when running was essential to our survival. This rings true when I’m out there on the trails; jumping over rocks, floating on silent strides, the wind in my ears with just my shadow and the natural environment for company. It’s easy to feel a strong connection to our ancestors who performed this pure movement many years ago. It is sometimes in these moments that I feel as if I could run forever and never get tired. It is for these special moments that I run, because there is no greater feeling than pushing past your comfort zone and feeling free as if you are flying over the terrain. Running reminds me what a priveldge it is to be alive and to be able to move on this wonderful planet. I have been lucky enough to have had many opportunities to visit different countries and places which I otherwise wouldn’t if I didn’t run. Running truly has opened up my eyes to the world and for this I am forever thankful.

Livigno (1)Pictured above: Training on the beautiful trails in Livigno, Italia. Photo credit: Phil Gale

I run to explore.

The one aspect of running which I have truly fallen in love with, is the ability to be able to use your own two feet as a method of exploration. I think this is probably why I have found mountain running to be my niche in the sport of running during the summer months. Mountain runners are a different breed of runner. Through the nature of the sport, the focus is more on fun and development and there are no egos. Everyone is an equal and has an appreciation for the environment and world in which we live. We know we are lucky to experience this through running remote trails. It’s like that first breath of fresh air you crave after being stuck inside an exam room for hours. Refreshing, invigorating and a completely newfangled approach to enjoying the whole running experience.

Livigno 2 (1)Pictured above: Exploring Livigno, Italia

The culture of mountain running is something completely different to what I’d experienced previously. The one obvious difference is that mountain runners smile. Running in the mountains or on the trails makes people happy. How can it not when you get to scamper over terrain in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings? Yes it can hurt, your lungs can feel on fire, your legs like bricks, but it is pure enjoyment.

I run because the people and stories you make along the way are so heartwarming.

The social side of running is something I really enjoy too. I have made many friends through the sport from all different countries and the combination of running and being in beautiful places either competing or for a training camp seems to just pull us runners together. Runners can sometimes be seen as our own unique crazy species so it is only natural that if you see another runner you automatically want to share stories of your running adventures. Running is something that bonds people together to allow them to have a greater sense of purpose in life too.

friendships

friendships2 (1)Pictured above: Friends for life. The European Mountain Running Championship 2016, Arco, Italia

I run to inspire others.

I have really discovered how running can inspire others as I have been helping to inspire the next generation of runners in my local area. Seeing the children smiling and being really enthusiatic and desprate to get outside and move their body’s just because of something you have said is truly heartwarming. Even just running down the street and exchanging a word or two with a passer by and seeing them smile can make you realise how much sport and running does bring people of all kinds together. Because running is something all humans have in common even if some people dislike or cringe at the thought. Trust me, that is only a thought. Yes it may be a horrible thought, but once you get your running shoes on and get out there, you’ll probably come to love it too.

Running is so much more than just a sport. It’s more than just a race.
It’s about the inspiring people you meet, the incredible places you get to visit, the close friendships you build and the unforgettable memories you make.

I run because running is freedom to me and there is no better way to experience life’s journey.

THAT’S why I run.

You can read more about Heidi Davies and her mountain running adventures by visiting her blog.

Other related posts: Heidi Davies: The life of a teenage trail runner | Why I Run – by Lisa Tamati

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Why I Run – by Lisa Tamati

There’s one question I get asked by nearly everyone I meet. It’s the one thing they all want to know and the one question I find difficult to answer quickly and succinctly. It is, of course, ‘Why do you do it?’

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Those five words are really loaded. What I think most people who ask me that mean is something along these lines:
‘Why don’t you just give up when the going gets so tough most people would just lie down and cry? Why can you push through pain barriers, and beat all odds, continue on for hours or days in a state of exhaustion that most humans would never conceive as possible, through sleep deprivation, hallucinations, blisters, shin splints, inflammation, digestion problems and altered mental states? Why, after swearing black and blue you will never do it again, do you turn up at the next race all excited and ready to go?’
Needless to say, I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years. I think every ultramarathon runner would answer the question differently but there are several things that drive me to run.

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For most of us, our world today is so comfortable, so physically soft, and at the same time so terribly demanding and stressful that it can be hard to keep up with everything we feel we need to do in a day. For me, running helps regain a healthy balance between my mind, my body and my soul—that is why I do it.
It takes real discipline to train for an event, and then to give my absolute all in order to finish that race. With every race I enter, I know I am risking failure but I also have the confidence in myself to know that I will push myself to my very limits in the pursuit of success.
I love single-mindedly pursuing a goal. I find having a singular goal is quite purifying because there’s so much going on in my life in terms of commitments and expectations—the phone’s constantly ringing, emails are coming in, there are a hundred things that need doing—and I have to find a way to balance it all. But when I go to a race, I leave all that behind and I just focus on the trail.

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When I go to a race, I don’t enjoy the pain of it—absolutely not—but I enjoy the focus that it gives me. While I’m racing, my mind is constantly preoccupied with taking the next step. I know I can’t let go for a minute, especially in desert races or when I’m running through the night. I’ve got to be watching where I’m going. I’ve got to be aware of how much fluid I’ve taken in. I need to know how many calories I’ve eaten. I’ve got to be listening to my body and where the pain is. I need to know how my mates I’m running with are doing. I need to worry about whether I need to be motivating them or if they are motivating me. My whole focus the around the clock is on getting to the finish line.
It can be extremely tiring because there’s no downtime. Even in the stage races, although there’s always the relief of getting to camp when I know I’ll be spending the night there. We sit around sharing war stories about what we’ve gone through that day. But the whole time we’re all still focused on that goal of making the finish line. The rewards for all that hard work are the sense of pride, of achievement, of tired satisfaction, and of confidence that come from crossing that finish line.

Lisa
Photo credit

Another thing I love about ultrarunning is that when someone is challenged in such an extreme way, both mentally and physically, you get to see the true essence of that person. I think that’s something a lot of us want to do—to get to that point in a race, adventure or expedition where we’ve got nothing left, that we’re totalled and we’ve given everything but we somehow manage to pull something out of ourselves to keep going. That’s what most of us want to find out. Have we got that in us? Can we push it that little bit harder? What mettle are we made of?
Through the sport, I have really learned to value people who push themselves beyond normal barriers and overcome obstacles. For me, it’s not about being the fastest on the course—that doesn’t impress me. It’s the guy who is last, it’s the girl who has broken her back and has fought back and now she’s crossing the desert or the 75-year-old who’s coming back into the desert for the fifteenth time and he won’t let anyone tell him he can’t do it. Those are the stories that I really love and that’s what I love about the ultramarathon scene as opposed to the more competitive marathon and triathlon scenes. There it’s all about competing against each other. Our sport does have an element of that, but at the end of the day, most of us are in to compete against and test ourselves.
The power of running to change people’s lives, to put people’s lives back together, to help rebuild their self-esteem is another reason I do it. You go through hardships in running but that makes you tougher and shows you what is important in life. It takes you back to basics. You can’t be an ultramarathon runner and really arrogant because you’re dealing with Mother Nature and Mother Nature will always give you a hiding. She will also show you your strengths and your vulnerabilities, your extraordinary abilities, and your inherent human weaknesses.

Gobi desert documentary: 
Himalaya documentary 222km over the two highest passes in the world: 
Lisa’s career spans over 20 years of competing in some of the toughest endurance events on earth and participating in expeditions. She is the author of two best selling books Running Hot and Running to Extremes, her stories are entertaining and often at times shocking.

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Race the train!

‘I FIND THAT THE HARDER I WORK, THE MORE LUCK I SEEM TO HAVE’ Thomas Jefferson

Running has provided me with a tremendous amount of opportunities over the last few years. I’ve been fortunate enough to represent my club, county and country at what I do best, I’ve competed in some brilliant races at home and abroad and I’m supported by three fantastic sponsors who have all helped me to achieve some amazing things. I consider myself to be a very lucky and privileged person. That said, I also know that I’ve worked extremely hard for all of my success thus far. I set myself challenging targets and do everything I can to achieve my goals. To quote the great Thomas Jefferson – ‘I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have’.
 A few weeks ago I received a phone call from one of the producers of BBC TV’s programme Countryfile. He asked me if I might consider being involved in an episode that would be filmed in Snowdonia. Immediately he had my full attention. This particular part of North Wales is extremely special to me. I love the Welsh people and I love the beautiful, natural environment with its majestic mountains and stunning coastline. I have many fond memories of spending summer holidays here during my childhood but most of all, I’ve always had a natural affinity and obsession with the country’s greatest natural landmark – Mount Snowdon. I’ve climbed Snowdon many times and last year I even finished 3rd in the prestigious Snowdon International mountain race. Since then I’ve made it my personal goal to one day return and try to add my name to the history books with a memorable victory of my own.
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Pictured above: A glorious sunset over the town of Llanberis, taken after the Snowdon Twilight Race 2015
So what exactly did they want me to do?
The proposal was particularly exciting. The idea being that I would take part in a race to the summit against one of the nation’s best loved presenters –John Craven‘Brilliant!’ I said. ‘I can definitely beat him’ (I hoped!)…I mean he must be at least 70! I might not even need a warm up!. Then came the real challenge – John would hitch a ride on the Snowdon Mountain Railway and I would run to the summit. It seemed I might just need that warm up after all.
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Pictured above: The summit of Snowdon (courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway)

JOHN CRAVEN IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE NICEST AND HUMBLEST MAN I’VE EVER MET IN MY LIFE’

As I made my journey to Llanberis I started to feel a little anxious, especially at the thought of working with a TV legend like John Craven. But there was no need for me to feel nervous in the slightest. As soon as we met, any fears I had were immediately put to rest. I can confirm with the utmost confidence that John Craven is quite possibly the nicest and humblest man I’ve ever met in my life. In fact,  5 minutes later I’d completely forgotten just how famous he was and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of his company – what an absolute legend.
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Pictured above: The pre-race picture – Red vs Blue!
The morning of filming finally arrived and I woke up full of excitement. The sun was shining and the conditions were perfect – the mountains around Llanberis looked breathtaking. John was in such a good mood after watching Sunderland AFC avoid relegation the night before that I thought he might even have the energy to run up Snowdon with me! Although when he realised just how warm it was I think he was very relieved to have a ticket for the train.

‘HE (KENNY STUART) IS ONE OF MY HEROES AND ARGUABLY THE GREATEST FELL RUNNER OF ALL TIME’

I was given an Osmo camera to film my journey whilst John took the train and conducted three interviews en route to the summit with Stephen Edwards (Snowdon Race director), Ken Jones (Snowdon Race founder) and Kenny Stuart (Snowdon Race record holder and fell running legend).

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Pictured above: John interviewing myself and Kenny on the summit of Snowdon.
I must confess to being very relieved when I heard Kenny was taking the train to the top of the mountain – I was more scared of racing him than the train! At 59 years of age he is still in fantastic shape and looks every inch the athlete. One of the highlights of the day for me was getting to meet and chat with him. He is one of my heroes and arguably the greatest fell runner of all time. During his incredibly successful career he set a number of truly outstanding records, many of which will never be broken. He was also British champion in 1984 and 1985 and among the records he set in those years were 1:02:18 at Skiddaw, 1:25:34 at Ben Nevis, and 1:02:29 at Snowdon. A truly inspirational man and I was grateful for all of the advice he gave me.
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 Pictured above: With fell running legend Kenny Stuart – one of my heroes!
Unfortunately I must remain tight-lipped as to the result of the race but I can confirm it was a very close finish and should certainly make for good viewing.
In addition to this Top Gear style contest the episode will also help raise the profile of mountain running in the UK, showcase Snowdonia in it’s glorious splendour and highlight the effect the race has on tourism in the area. Remarkably it adds a colossal £250,000 to the area’s economy during race weekend. It’s amazing what the power of one mountain can do.
The programme is scheduled to air on BBC 1 on Sunday, 29th May 2016 at 7.00pm.
The 41st Snowdon International Race will take place on Saturday 16th July 2016 at 2.00pm and the highlights will be shown on S4C (time and date TBC).
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Pictured above: The final ascent to the summit (courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway)

 

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