Wild running – on the road?

A recent Geography field-trip took me to the stunning island of North Uist, in the Outer Hebrides. Our research themes centred around conservation, historical and religious geographies as well as Gaelic culture  and identity.

Having never visited the western Isles, I was excited to get stuck in and learn about this remote island on the ‘edge’ of the Scottish Highlands. Equally, I was as excited about getting out on some nice runs whilst out there – I had been imagining the long unspoilt trails that would cut through the remote landscape, rolling hills abound with wildlife and peace away from the hubbub of fieldwork.

north-uist-007

Nope, sadly this was not to be. Turns out my wild running fantasy was nothing more than a slog along some long undulating B-roads, being battered by the wind. Views of sheep and island inlets dominated the visual narrative as I battled the gales.

Don’t get me wrong, the views were breathtaking at times but I was disappointed at the lack of trail paths within the vicinity. But I was confused as to why I wasn’t enjoying it anywhere near as much as I had anticipated. I had the peace and quiet: no cars or people. Breathtaking views of the island and its natural (but humanly managed) landscape. Calls of rare wader populations all around me. Yet i still felt surprisingly urban…

The surface –

Our haptic sensing even through cushioned shoes is surprisingly powerful, my feet knew exactly what type of environment I was running on, even if I didn’t. I was on a road, a well maintained smooth tarmac road and even though I wasn’t looking at it or paying attention to the asphalt beneath my feat, my body knew, through the receptors in my feet and legs. My mind and body knew I wasn’t in the wild.

It sounded like I was, looked like I was, smelt like I was but, crucially, it didn’t feel like I was.

This for me is the uniqueness and breathtaking intelligence of our senses – they plurally engage in our surrounding environment, touching, listening, smelling, seeing and even tasting (salty air!) the environment around us. They don’t act individually or separate from our mind. The mind body connection is very real; something that became incredibly obvious as I ran on a road in the wild landscape of North Uistdsc_8325

Geography and running?

Some thoughts and questions…

Why geography? Why running?

Two thoughts I’m faced with almost everyday. One is not so easily defined whist the other can be demonstrated or explained in an instant. On the surface the two may appear incredibly distant but over the past year I have begun to understand how the two are as interconnected as anything else out there.

Both are significant passions in my life, one as my undergraduate degree, the other as an obsessive hobby. As part of my dissertation research I am undertaking a ‘geographic exploration of trail running’ and an analysis of social media and Blog posts related to running in the wild. So I thought why not have a go at this blog thing.

Many studies have been conducted on road running as well as competitive track racing and run commuting. However little literature has focused on trail running and those who run in or through nature and the experiences garnered from such exploits. That is one of the reasons for taking on a 13,000 word project about the two. Another lies with my love of the outdoors and appreciation of this thing called nature – one of the most difficult-to-define words in the English language. It is within this western notion of running in the wild that I aim to explore the meanings, experiences, connections and affects that runners encounter whilst on the run in wild landscapes.

Geography is fundamentally about space; analysing the world we live in – through various mediums and perspectives. Why is that so? How is that so? Two questions at the core of the academic subject. It is through geographical analysis’ that I hope trail running’s possibilities and meanings can be uncovered…

The experiences generated by running are incredibly interesting and valuable to Geographers. My dissertation’s primary aim is to investigate, contextualise and situate these experiences, feelings, affects and motions that take place during a run into Human Geographical inquiry and theory. As an embodied experience, running is a highly accomplished sensualist activity as its exploratory nature adds to its terrestrial kind of attachment. My research and discussions will focus on running in ‘natural environments’ something often referred to as ‘trail running’ – essentially forms of running that aren’t done on a pavement or in a predominantly built urban environment. Using alternative and new forms of methods, my dissertation will aim to explore the interrelationship of space, the natural environment and runners’ embodied experiences in these environments.

Sensory Geographies are a growing part of the Geo-cultural take on the world. Our (dis)embodied experiences around us are at the core of everything we do. Running is or should be as embodied an experience as any. Except in the midst of rapid technological growth and Richard Askwith’s ‘Big Running’ – are we losing our engagement with the natural landscapes we run in? Scholars have noted how people in the west are losing their sensory abilities and connections with nature – smell, touch, hearing, tasting the natural environment have all been replaced by our reliance on the visual. These are just some of the issues I hope to explore in my research.

Part of this experiment is to show how beneficial experiences in the outdoors can be and get more people running (long term ambitions!). Nature offers so many benefits and is under massive threat from various actors – now is the most urgent time for us to reembody our senses and reconnect to the natural world.

I am by no means an expert trail runner or even a very fast one either but it is through this blog that I hope to convey how Geography and trail-running are closely interconnected as I aim to reveal some areas of interest for further research. SO: how are Geography and running related? The Environment, space, place and the senses…. ?

Run for the Hills Wallpaper