FOR THE LOVE OF RUNNING
BY Ben HookeAllowing a sport or a hobby to become something you *have* to do is sad. Sometimes, it’s inevitable when you train for a goal. It’s hard to love the everyday graft. We’re currently midway through the race training season - approaching London, Paris and Boston - and training is something we have to do to achieve what we want.
Running, though, still is something we get to do. And creating the space to reconnect with our original, childlike love of running is why we ran to Paris.
Doing it for the sheer sake of it - care free, spontaneous. On Thursday night, two nights before Valentine’s weekend, 16 runners gathered at Marble Arch to do something they loved. All the way to Paris.
270km roughly - or 162 miles in old money. Run as much or as little as you want. Just enjoy the ride.
The first segment was familiar for much of the team - a 10km through Clapham to Tooting Bec. Past notorious first date spots, post-run coffee shops and down through Balham.
Trips like these ebb and flow in mood and morale. The start is powered by a lack of sleep deprivation and adrenaline, mainly. Optimism and the “getting to know you” phase of this trip felt very similar to the type of scene you see in the first-date hotspots in south London’s cosiest pubs and bars. Remembering names, finding out jobs, looking for potential red flags. None found so far.
The ferry provided rest - a top-up of enthusiasm and fuel - and the opportunity to regain feeling in the cold feet of the support team.
Arriving into Dieppe brought more new territory and a fresh gratitude for daylight running (it’s the little things).The trodden route from a weird port town in France to its symbolic capital is actually a very well-structured direct cycle path - blissfully flat and beautifully direct. And hylo’s running lovers experienced this section of the route at its best - sun setting, hills in the background and northern France’s mismatch of architectures taking centre stage. Brutalist flats opposite gingerbread houses.
These quirks are vital on long runs - the aimlessness is what initially attracts but that often means the little things really matter in the moment. To mention them in hindsight seems childish - or silly - because they only matter in the moment. But here are mine: faintly-painted football pitches next to quaint clubhouses, old station-houses now repurposed, cows and sheep. For others, there were open plains, bakeries, or even, the people they were running with!
As the night and cold drew back in, it hit harder than the first. The opportunity, in challenges like this, for the devil on your shoulder to take over is rife - it’s almost unavoidable for the cold snap to not turn into a verbal one.
And this trip is no different. But this wasn’t because of wind or rain but a natural occurrence much older and more brutal. Human error.
Michael, hylo’s founder - organiser of the trip, a man with endless energy - attempted a three point turn after being spooked at a checkpoint. And got one of two of our support vans stuck in the mud.
I will admit that after around 60km of cycling in the freezing cold, my patience was thin. But this man is also my boss. Choose. Your. Words. Carefully.
In hindsight, I laugh. I sort of did at the time. In a different, more despairing way. Five knackered people against the elements with a tonne of minibus to shift. With the other van further along and other runners en route, we were on our own. A challenge within a challenge - as if running to Paris wasn’t difficult enough.
When initial attempts to rock the bus failed, some thought hope was lost, others ploughed on in search for a solution other than ringing the AA - or the french equivalent.
In the end, it was both approaches that got us back on the road (plus the kindness of a Frenchman willing to give his time and his van and his tow rope) - the AA advised how to do it and the people present pushed us out of this man-made hole in aid of a challenge that had no real point - other than the sheer sake of it.
At the time, I was annoyed. Looking back, am I glad it happened? I’ll say this: it did happen, and I’m proud we got out of it.
You’ll never guess what cleared the mind….The next legs of running were aimless and mindless - two things people seem to hate about running - both things runners with an expedition disposition love about lengthier exertion.
The final leg into Paris was as you would expect on a challenge like this: simultaneous pride at completion and relief that we were there.