I’ve been running for a few years. I don’t usually write about it because running talk is boring, often even to runners, and I’m sceptical about the frequent suggestion by writers-who-run that there is some causal connection between the two activities. Writing can be compared to almost any other activity; washing up (persist until it’s properly done or you’ll regret it later) or driving (you won’t be able to see your destination when you set off, only the road in front, but you should still know where you’re going) or cleaning out a septic tank (get in there, do what you came for, get out), so there’s no particular need to reach for the self-aggrandising similes of running marathons or giving birth. There are lots of good reasons to make a habit of going for a run, but mostly I do it as self-soothing. I wouldn’t say running makes me calm but it makes me calmer, more patient, more tolerant. It’s much easier to sit through a time-wasting meeting or walk at the pace of a small child if you ran ten miles first.
We’re on holiday in Scotland at the moment, mostly climbing mountains which is mostly what we do on holiday, and it’s been raining rather a lot even by the standards of Scottish walking holidays. I’ve been getting up early to run so it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s day, and a couple of days ago I found myself in my running clothes at 6.30 am, looking out into heavy rain and remarking piteously to my husband that I wished I wasn’t the kind of person who feels driven to run a long way in the rain before breakfast while on holiday. Well then, he said sensibly, don’t be that person, I don’t know what you think you have to prove, I’m going back to bed. I laced up my shoes and went out, telling myself it was fine if I just did 10k since we were after all going to climb a mountain after breakfast, that I could always turn back if it was too horrible, but of course, as I’d known I would, I ran for an hour and a half and, as I’d known, really, I would, came back grinning and glowing as well as wet and muddy.
I still never really believe it before I set off, but running in the rain is the best running. You don’t get cold because you’re running, but also you don’t get hot because of the rain, which means you can go further and faster in greater comfort. Even the dog-walkers prefer to stay in when it rains, which means that when not on the West Highland Way I can run along the canal and in the park and other places normally off limits to anyone afraid of dogs and their owners. It took me a while to learn that you want to wear as little as possible for rain-running, because a thin layer of lycra feels like a swimming costume while any addition layers are just a cold compress that will chafe and make you chilly, so I run in shorts and a vest and feel rain on my skin and in my hair, feel myself almost fully in the weather and moving fast and strong through mud and puddles and not scared of what’s out there but part of it. When we went up the mountain later we were, quite properly, wearing waterproof layers over our thermal layers over our base layers and I had padded hiking socks and wool socks under my hiking boots and all of that kept us safe if not comfortable for a long day high up in wind and rain, but I remembered my bare-shouldered early morning run with a small thrill.