Sunday, 16 December 2012

Say It Loud! I'm A Runner and Proud!

I am a runner.

Believe it or not it has taken me a little time before I have been able to say that.

Although I have an audio blog all about running, despite the fact I run at least three times a week (sometimes five depending on my training schedule) and despite the fact I have run two marathons in the last year I didn't identify myself as a runner. I run - yes. But I'm not a "runner".

To me "runners" were people who wore strange little Seb Coe type shorts. "Runners" were people who belonged to running clubs that all seem to end in the word "harriers". In short "runners" were the nerds of the athletic world. I'm not talking about the Olympic athletes I hasten to add, I'm talking about the average kind of people who belong to running clubs. Culturally I just didn't feel I fitted in.

In a similar fashion I cycle quite a bit but I would never label myself as a "cyclist". I despise Lycra and don't feel I culturally belong with "cyclists", this is despite the fact I cycle to work and back every day, cycle more than I drive and probably cycle more than most people who do profess to be "cyclists".

Just to complete the denial and hypocrisy; on the others side however I do think of myself as a basketball player or at least an ex-basketball player. I used to play basketball when I was younger but hardly pick up a ball now. That is because culturally I feel more at home with people who play basketball even though I am not very good. I am definitely better at running than balling.

There are obviously strong cultural elements to how you identify yourself and this is tied up with issues of race and class. To put it simply when I look at people at running clubs I don't see people "like me" but when I look at basketball clubs I see people "like me".

Your identity is not simply what you do but who you feel affinity with. For example my Jamaican heritage is important to me, at the last 2012 London marathon people from all over the world ran and their nationalities were recorded. Not a single Jamaican ran in the 2012 london marathon.

I think that is why I regularly thought of myself as a guy who runs as oppossed to a "runner".

The fact is though I am a runner. It is part of my identity. I might not feel a lot in common with some of the people at running clubs but we share a common passion for placing one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. Only fellow runners understand the pain and anguish we go through and the joy and elation. To deny our shared experiences is to deny part of myself. And in admitting to myself that I am a runner I feel my identiy has grown and I have been exposed to a new world.

So I will say it loud: I'm a runner and I'm proud.


If I was in any doubt in the picture above I'm the one exhausted in the bottom lefthand corner, I am just like all the other people there

(The original version of this blog appeared on

Friday, 7 December 2012

My Mid-Life Marathon Crisis


Can my marathon running help me with the inevitability of getting older?

I’m 41.

If I’m not middle-aged already I am fast approaching it and I’m pretty sure my mid-life crisis is just around the corner. Also according to a raft of scientific literature I am meant to be entering the unhappiest period of my life.

During your life happiness is supposedly U shaped. You are at your happiest at the beginning and the end of your life and at your lowest ebb in the middle of your life, around mid-forty, precisely the age I am now. There are a number of reasons that people think this may be the case but I think marathon running holds the secret to explaining it and might give us all a little hope.

When I line up at the start of a marathon I set myself a goal of the time I want to finish in, in much the way we set ourselves goals in life. At the start it doesn’t seem to matter if I go off a little bit too fast or my pace is a little slow, I’ll be able to adjust later on and it will all be OK. If I’m running seven minute miles it hardly seems to be too different from the runner who is only a little bit ahead of me who’s running miles in six minutes fifty – just ten seconds faster than me.

Then comes the halfway point, the mid point, or if we keep up the analogy that the marathon is like life – middle age. At the halfwaypoint you more or less know if you are going to make your goal. If you cross the halfway point at 1 hour 45minutes you are not going to do a sub three hour marathon – although it can seem as if you are only 15 minutes off your target you might as well be 2 hours off your target. At the mid point or middle age reality lets you know how well you are going to do. If you haven’t met your goal this realisation can be  a little depressing.

But if marathons teach us this depressing reality they also give us hope.

Firstly what you do in the second half of the marathon has real consequences. What you do in the second half changes your finishing time considerably.

Secondly if you stay positive in the second half you will do a lot better than if you dwell on what you should have done in the first half.

So I’m going to try and take these lessons to heart both when I am running my next marathon and when I feel a little anxious about getting older and my next birthday comes.

(Hear the original audio version of this blog at

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Running For Class President

In the last year running has taken me on some strange journeys. I did my first marathon in Rio, ended up racing a complete stranger in Central Park, New York and found myself naked in Amsterdam. I've embraced all the weird and wonderful things that have happened as part of runnings rich tapestry but now a new adventure has started that this time last year (before my marathon life) I would have never anticipated.

I am now trying to get people to vote for me.

No I'm not running for political office. Instead  I entered a competition by Runners World Magazine to win professional coaching for the Paris marathon (I've written and audioboo'ed about it before). The first stage was straight forward, around two thousand people entered of all different abilities writing why they deserved to receive the training. This 1,700 runners was whittled down to about fifty who had to attend a runners bootcamp in Birmingham last week. At the bootcamp the organisers met the fifty in person, saw how they ran, what running potential they had and I'm guessing who would benefit most from professional training. This fifty was then further whittled down to twenty odd.

Which is where my bizarre voting story comes in. I am one of those twenty odd runners still left in the competition hoping to get expert coaching. But the next stage is for other readers of runners world to vote for you online.

In the last year of running I have learnt so much about myself, I've been not just on a physical journey but a mental, emotional and at times even philosophical journey (listen to the other audioboos). But now I'm going to learn what it's like to actually try and get people to vote for me, to try and be popular.

I was never class president or anything like that so acually trying to get people to pick me will be weird.

I'm trying to say this experience will enrich my life but I'm slightly worried I'll discover no one really likes me.

Whatever happens it proves running is changing my life in ways I'd never imagined. Oh by the way for anyone reading this please go on the runners world website and vote for me. 

As they would say in Britain; "that is the end of the party political broadcast" or as they would say in America "I am Marcus Ryder and I approve this message".

(Original version of this blog post can be heard at

Since writing this post the votes have been cast and the count is in. Unfortunately I wasn't picked but it was a lot of fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Treating The Cause Not Just The Symptoms

As I become more interested in running I regularly aimlessly wander into sports shops and look at the vast array of running shoes. Nine times out of ten I'm not buying anything I just like being in a running environment. It's a bit like the way when I was younger I used to walk around record shops without a penny to my name.

All the running shoes i look at are in three broad categories: shoes for over-pronation, shoes for

supination and shoes for "neutral" runners. Basically the three categories are to do with how your foot lands and takes off when running; whether you run on the outside or inside of your feet or "neutrally". The shoes have padding to address any over-pronation or supination.

Many runners swear by their shoes but I'm increasingly beginning to think in a lot of cases the shoes are treating the symptom rather than the cause. I run neutrally but after my last marathon I was told I with a slight over-pronation. But instead of buying different shoes I suspected the problem was not my feet but my tired glutes after the marathon. I went to the osteopath and did exercises to strengthen my glutes. Hey presto new analysis of my running and I'm back to running neutrally.

The analysis was correct, I was over-pronating, but I treated the cause rather than the symptom.

I'm sure there are lots of things wrong with my running I just hope I have the foresight to seperate the cause from the symptom and become a healthier runner.

In the meantime I will continue to wander around running sports shops and covet all the running shoes, whatever category they are in.

(You can hear the originl audio diary of this post at )

I Feel Like An Elite Athlete

Today I feel like a professional athlete. It is 6.45 in the morning and I am at euston statin waiting to catch the 7.03 train to Birmingham. I'm going to Birmingham to attend the RunnersWorld magazine boot camp training session, this is part of the magazine's competition to give four lucky winners professional training to run the Paris marathon in April 2013. My understanding is that out of a few thousand people who entered the competition they have now whittled this down to about 40 who are all attending this boot camp training session today. Out of the 40 they will pick a lucky 24 who will be asked back in December and from that number they will pick four who they will train in the new year.

I think the reason I feel like a professional athlete today is due to a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. According to everyone's favourite academic authority wikipedia; "cognitivive dissonance is a term used in modern psychology to describe the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel "disequilibrium": frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc." this morning I am definitely holding two "conflicting cognitions". The first is that I am a 41 year old man who is a television executive working at the BBC, the second is that only serious athletes dress in sports gear and get the 7.03 train to Birmingham to run around a track as part of a competition. If I am not a serious athlete what am I doing here waiting for my train. In the Wikipedia definition of cognitive dissonance I am experiencing embarrassment that comes with the condition. I feel I am play acting at being an athlete, deluding myself that I am a proper athlete and at 41 I should know better.

And so to resolve this cognitive dissonance, or to achieve what psychologists term consonance, I can do one of two things. One, just turn around and go back to work and forget all this marathon nonsense or two, say I am a professional athlete. (There is of course a third which is to change my belief that only professional athletes dress up in sports gear and go to athletic track competitions at 7 in the morning - but I haven't got there yet). And so as I am not about to turn around, change into my work clothes and head into the office I am left with option number two and that is to feel like a professional athlete.

And now come to think of it I believe that this is the reason why so many people take up running in later life. It can be the athletic equivalent of playing Dungeons & Dragons or Second Life, you are creating a new alternative identity for yourself. By day I may be a mild mannered television executive but by night (or in this case very early in the morning) I am an athlete. I may not be on par with Olympians like Jessica Innes or Mo Farrah but I have joined their "club". Exercise has long been recognised to keep you healthy not only physically but mentally as well but possibly on the mental level marathon running and racing keeps you mentally well by providing you with a new identity of who you are, in a way that just merely going to the gym doesn't.

So next time I am at a dinner party and someone asks what I do I think I will tell them I am a marathon runner who also does works in television and see how I feel about myself.

(Hear the original audio recording of this post at )