Run and play: The joy of jogging

Running is quiet. You run alone. You are free.


I used to run. When I was in school, it was the only sport I did, or could do.

Other sports were loud, involving a conspiracy of rules, teammates, spectators and judges, all oppressive.

I liked running for its simplicity. Running is quiet. You run alone. You are free. Your victories, and crucially, your defeats, are private. There is no team. The team is you and the goal is the action. You run to run.

I stopped running years ago when I moved to England. I no longer owned the correct shoes and I wouldn’t commit to buying new ones. I didn’t know the neighbourhoods. It rained. Eventually, I hadn’t been running for so long that I could no longer run well, and this became reason not to run at all. Other things were more important.

Then last autumn, I moved back to Canada to live with my parents. At the time, I viewed this as a kind of metaphorical death. It had the same bureaucratic consequences. Closed bank accounts. Cancelled mobile phone contracts. The ending of responsibilities. Friendships that I took seriously, let go, alongside books, clothes, lamps, a small Persian prayer rug taken from my ex-boyfriend, and an artistic plate that I had a fondness for, having robbed it on a night out.

I’d experienced a reversal of fortune, something you see all the time in literature and film, but which rarely happens in such obvious, manifest ways in real life. I was back where I’d started. It was hard to get places and I had nowhere to go.

I started running as a way of passing time. It felt productive. Every run started and ended at home, but it got me somewhere.

In the past, when I thought of running, I often wondered if there was something pathological about it. Some fundamental disquiet that runners share. It can’t be healthy, all that movement. It is not good for the knees. It’s isolating. Self-obsessed. There are other, better forms of cardiovascular activity.

Now that I am running, I remember why people run. It’s the solitude. The rare joy of going where you please without the interference of other people’s agendas and wills. It is the pleasure of obeying instinct. Of allowing yourself to be seduced by a spontaneous and private desire for play.

Here is a hill, sprint.

Here is a puddle, splash.

Here is a log, jump.

It’s these small acts of freedom, in life and in running, that make difficulty tolerable. The endless unfolding of choice and challenge. The reaching and setting of private, immediate goals. The pleasure and pain of self-directed play.

When I can’t run outside, I run in a gym where I am able to observe other runners at work. I see that they each have an individuality to their routine: intervals, inclines and programmes they prefer. On Tuesdays, there’s a woman who, inexplicably, wears a towel wrapped around her head so you can’t see her face. Her treadmill is always set at a steep—ridiculous—incline. On Fridays, there is a man who wears swimming trunks instead of track pants.

As I get to know the people at the gym, and as I become known to them, I see that we are, after all, a kind of team. Every day encountering each other at this place we’ve decided to show up to, sharing a restlessness. A need for emancipation and an impulse for control. A desire to improve.

When you run habitually, effort and outcome begin to marry up in a way they do not always do in life. Cause meets effect. You improve. What may begin as a form of play, or release, or coping, ends up as sanity. It’s the feeling you have playing a video game, when a set of prescribed rules mean that you know, ultimately, you will find a solution and make it to the next level, but the challenge is equal to you, and worth the pursuit.

That is why I run. For the sense of possible victory. Of surmountable obstacles. And the desire to overcome difficulty for no purpose other than the joy of doing the thing.


Follow Kate on Instagram at @katedotdotdotsinclair.

Photo credit: Ev