I remember a phone call with Jonny Muir last June, asking him about the rather obscure concept of moving rather than running in the mountains.
At some point, we touched on the topic of why we run.
“Some people go to the hills for the view”, I noted him saying. “I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t run for the view.”
At the time I crinkled my nose at this in a rather snooty way. I was not much of a runner then, having only been seriously at it for about 4 months and on the cusp of running the Lairig Ghru marathon – not your classic out-and-out fell race to say the least.
Since that conversation, a lot has happened. For a start, I have ran 1,132km and climbed around 42,131m, and even at that feel I am only just getting the hang of it. But, more than that, my relationship with the hills has changed.
Coming as a hillwalker of nearly 20 years, my perception of a hill was one of a slow birth, the aim being a summit and a view with a piece in hand and a cup of tea in another. In boots, your feet are in armoured tanks (of varying quality), designed to keep your feet warm and the water out.
In your rucksack, everything is there to make sure you are well prepared and the experience is comfortable.
Running changes all of that.
Instead of an outward-facing view, I am now privy to a 360-degree perspective. Albeit, when running, your head is at a 45-degree angle for much of the time to mark the next foot placement, there is a certain spatial awareness that comes from the higher pace.
Perhaps you are less concerned about your own bodily receptors of being wet or cold. Moving fast and light does away with that concern. I’d more readily be soaked to the bone on a hill in a pair of shorts and running shoes than cocooned in a £400 waterproof jacket, Gore-Tex boots and hauling a rucksack.
A lot gets bandied about these days about barefoot running. Books like Born to Run and Footnotes (a book I just finished) expound the virtues of barefoot running, but I never managed to connect with these because of where they ran.
A lot of the running was dusty trails or roads. However, my perception of running changed significantly when I moved to minimalist shoes in the hills. As soon as I started running through bogs, soaked grass, heather, moss and snow with them, my feet became immersed in the landscape. They added to my impression of the hills.
The perception is not just in that ‘connection’ to the ground – that ‘earthing’ – but I found a strange sense-heightening through running. Everything seems to become spatially and temporally concurrent; I have a distinct sense that the world is alive around me, that I am not the only one in it (and I am not just talking about sentient life forms), nor that the area beyond my visual extremities ceases to exist.
The wind and rain and sun that casts itself against me and with me is not just isolated to my experience of it, but adds to the essence of the landscape. When wearing nothing but shorts and a set of flimsy shoes, the way the elements play on your senses immerses you in the landscape.
In a sense, I do know what Jonny meant: the view is no longer that which is directly in front of me anymore. The approximately 210-degree horizontal by 150-degree vertical perception of our eyes is widened to a 360-by-360-degree view – a sense that the experience covers us.
Somehow, the view now goes beyond my visual boundaries. The effort, the movement, the senses are all contributors to the perception. As Merleau-Ponty wrote: “The body is our general medium for having a world.”
After all, how often do you get a view from the Scottish hills?