9th April 2020

Culture / Mark Shayler

I Always Feel Like Running by Mark Shayler

102 9 mins 20

AAnyone can run, and we should. Mark Shayler is a visionary, a powerhouse of ideas and wearer of great trousers. He’s also a public speaker who leads an innovation and environmental consultancy called Ape. He is the author of Do Disrupt: Change the Status Quo. Or Become It.

He describes how running is one of the most natural things, that we are all born to run. We go through life running to things, away from things. Life moves quickly and we run to keep up. But we do not control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses. Mark believes it is our responses to things that define us.

I always feel like running.
Never away, because there’s no such place.

I’ve always run. When I was a baby, in the over-medicalised late 1960s, I was a bit bandy. My folks took me to the doctors and the doctor wanted to break both my legs and reset them. Hardcore. My Dad said it was most likely just my nappies making me bow-legged. Good job, who knows what would have happened. I had a talent for running. I was quick. Really quick. I ran at school. These were the days before anything digital. Therefore playing outside always involved running. Running away from bullies. Running in games. Running just because I had nothing else to do. I just ran and ran and ran.

 

Then I went to an athletics club in Coventry and ran some more. I was rapid. I was a runner. To be fair, if you have legs then you are a runner. We have always run, away from danger and towards food. Running defined us as a species and defined me as a young person. I wanted to be good at football, but the ball got in the way of running.

Then, like William Webb Ellis, I picked up the ball and ran. I found my love. I played rugby for Leicestershire and even got trials for Leicester Tigers (I wasn’t good enough). But I ran in other ways too. I ran away from athletics for a start. I ran towards girls and beer. I finally (second attempt) ran to University. I tried to run away from University as I didn’t quite fit-in. I ran to London on my placement year and I ran to love. She ran away from work and we moved in together. We ran to marriage and then had to jog back to University to finish my degree. Work and kids arrived, and I stopped running as much. Until I was bullied at work and I ran. I ran away from that job and straight into the path of the wrong job. I then ran into the ego of a big job – at a big company. My boss was dreadful, she was a real control freak and I ran away. But there is no such place. I ran to a dream. I ran to a dream of moving to Australia. But sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes the job you wanted doesn’t get offered to you. Sometimes you have a family health scare that makes you reassess “home”.

I had nowhere to run to. I started my business. It grew. And grew. Then it stopped growing. Then I decided that I didn’t want to work with my business partner of nine years anymore. So I ran. I ran straight into the first offer (the first offer is rarely the best offer). Then I had to run from that.

 

In all this time, ironically with all this running, I’d stopped running. Totally stopped running. Sure, I cycled, but I’d stopped running. I’d forgotten the joy of running. Every time I started to run again, I got injured. Plantar Fasciitis. Sore knees. Bad back. I just had injury after injury. Then I had a breakthrough. I went on a men’s workshop for the weekend. As part of the weekend we had to imagine our worst fear.

Mine came to me fast – a debilitating disease. Something like motor neurone disease (which I’d seen up close and personal) or paralysis. We were encouraged to see what sat behind this fear. After much meditation on the subject, I realised that it was the fear of not being able to run. But what was running? Well, running was freedom, running was in my mind (I realised) about being young and worry-free. Running was about being breathless and happy to be so. Running removed me from danger and propelled me towards safety. Running was meditation. Running was joy. And that fear, the fear of not being able to run well, I was bringing that to life all on my own. By not running. By eating too much (all my addiction issues are about food – apart from a month or two where I was permanently kippered by cheap hash). Eating had become my first response to stress, anger, worry, depression. It used to be running. Now I didn’t need a doctor to break my legs to stop me running; I was doing it myself. I wasn’t obese (although my BMI said I was), I was fit and fat (I tried to persuade myself) but I’d replaced the freedom of movement with something that hampered my movement. There and then I changed. I told the men I was with that I would run the next day at 7 am. Two of them got up early to wave me off on my run. It was only a short two-miler, but they were waiting for me, cheering me as I returned. I was a runner again. I can’t thank those men enough.

 

The sentences that started this piece – “I always feel like running, never away because there’s no such place” are from the song “Running” by Gil Scott Heron. The song makes me emotional. It always has. Long before my epiphany on that men’s weekend. In fact, that album, I’m New Here  -his last album- is utterly brilliant and really speaks to me. It played a big part in sorting my shit out. In working out what running was to me.

It took me a while to work out what I ran to and from. I ran to love-based decisions and I ran from fear-based decisions. Meeting my love and getting married – I ran to. I ran from conflict and discomfort. I don’t do that anymore. I’m comfortable with those decisions now. I run because I can and because I always want to be able to. My biggest fear, our biggest fears, are in our own hands.

Fear-based decisions and love-based decisions. Our reaction to them defines us. But you can’t run away, because there is no place.

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Mark Shayler a visionary, public speaker, author, writer and enthusiast who runs an innovation and environmental consultancy called Ape. He is the author of Do Disrupt: Change the Status Quo. Or Become It.

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