Helen sat on the sofa sideways in a yellow jumper. Small plumes of white smoke reached out from the front of her mouth as she vaped. She looked into the distance when she talked. She was concerned that what she said would not sound right. It took time for her not to feel self-conscious.
I’m 28, almost 29 and I play guitar in a band full time. I’ve always enjoyed sport but never considered myself particularly fit. I come from an average middle class family in Manchester. That’s about it really.
Our music? It’s difficult to describe. I guess we play soft rock, kind of Indie. ‘Indie rock’ but before the term got defiled by crap music. I’m not sure we’re doing much to salvage that, but it’s kind of rock.
I feel that was not the most eloquent, or articulate. You can re-phrase it and make it sound good.
We have periods of real intensity. Last month for example, we had two weeks playing in Croatia, one night at home and then a ten day UK tour, another night at home and then a week in the recording studio. Which is full-on but kind of fun. Every day is mapped out. You know exactly where you need to be and at what time. Our tour finished last week and since then it’s more relaxed. Today, I’ve just rehearsed on my own for an hour while the others have been writing.
I always thought that I hated running. I’m not naturally fit. That’s not me being self-deprecating. When I was growing up, I had friends who ran cross-country and I tried it but I hated it. I found it physically painful in all senses, particularly breathing.
When I moved to London, I joined a gym. Having my own space became important to me psychologically. As I did that more, I found a sense of fun from being able to go for longer and do more.
There’s four of us in the band and we all live together. It’s so much fun, but it’s also very intense and you don’t have any space or time to yourself. Running gives me that space. It’s become a really nice routine. Now… it’s not an obsession, but if I don’t do it I’m not quite settled, or happy, or content for the day. I always try and get up before the rest of the band to go on my run, do a little bit of toning, come in and shower and then be ready to start rehearsals.
That routine gives a purpose and structure to my life. It can be so comforting. If we’re on tour and there’s time when we’re staying somewhere, I try and get up early and run. It makes me feel that I can do anything. The best thing is that running is transferable. I can do it anywhere. It’s completely flexible but also very structured.
Initially my runs were very short, and I’d go maybe two or three times a week. It was a bit of an ongoing joke with the band. They assumed that I hadn’t actually been, or talked about it more than I actually went. The first time I ran outside it was horrible. Really painful. You get all chesty and pick up stitches. When I started I still thought that running was a really hard thing to do, and that it was what other people did. That changed after about a month of running twice a week.
Now I run most days. Yeah, I do love it. In a weird way… It’s psychological. If I don’t go for a run for two days I feel crappy and disappointed. When I do go out, I feel so much better.
I think it’s the sense of space that you get from being outside. It’s meditative and relaxing. Round here, you get to run in a nice environment. That helps.
It’s funny talking to people about running in groups. That doesn’t appeal to me at all. In no other part of my life do I enjoy spending time on my own, I would say that I’m an extrovert, but for some reason I just love the absolute isolation of running. Being outside in general is… I don’t know what the scientific term is, but it’s definitely good for humans, isn’t it?
We spend a lot of time in basements and recording studios, holed up in indoor spaces for extended periods of time. If I can give myself an hour in the morning to go out and just be outside that’s important to me.
I never really thought about what running feels like. It’s really hard to separate the endorphins and sense of achievement and satisfaction from the actual physical experience. I was talking to my mum last week. She asked what brought this on. I guess it’s just competitiveness against myself. But then how that feels when I’m actually running. There are moments when it is painful, like when I’m running up a big hill, but that’s inextricable from the sense of satisfaction and contentment that I get at the end of it.
It’s about pushing your body to do things that you never believed you would be capable of. But I’m not sure if that is actually enjoyable? The scenery is nice and sometimes it is fun, but often it’s purely painful. There’s just something exhilarating about running that makes it worthwhile.
I’ve always had really close relationships wherever I’ve been, but running for me is unique in that I can do it on my own. It’s my thing and no one else needs to take part. There’s something really nice and spiriting about that in terms of developing a sense of independence. I guess evolutionarily speaking it’s a very simple human activity, but it’s addictive.
Prior to this stint, I never believed that my body was capable of running for 10km because I’d get these weird twinges all through my body. In retrospect these were quite normal and natural but I’d be like whoa! I don’t want to risk doing any damage. So previously, I’ve never had any targets. Now though, I can run 10km – it takes me a ridiculous amount of time – but I can run that comfortably.
Last week I did 19km just because I was exploring new areas, and wasn’t conscious of where I was going or what I was doing. I never want to set myself a goal that I can’t achieve, but I have got this nagging sense that if I continue at my current rate then I might try to do a half-marathon. But as I say, no one in my family runs and they’d just be a bit baffled by the concept.
Running certainly helps me not kill the other members of the band. I don’t know if it actually helps me with my music. On a very basic level there is the fitness. Having a stronger core and better form does help me play. It takes a lot of stamina to play an hour long set on full blast.
Some people talk about deliberately focusing on the rhythm of their breathing when they run, but I try to switch off from that. I listen to podcasts and enter a different state. It’s definitely ridiculous, but when I don’t run with headphones I find it so much harder. I’m so conscious of how far I’ve gone and how long’s left. That’s when my old negative mentality comes back. I think that I can’t do it and want to stop. It’s completely in my own head.
Running enables you to have that space to yourself, and it enables you to connect with your body in a very personal way. And you know that you can always return to it, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. The ability to do that and still gain enjoyment from it, I think is amazing.
If you’re fit, no one can take that away from you. A gym doesn’t really give you any sense of adventure or exploration. Whenever I run, I always see new things and notice different bits. Back where I live, there are lots of odd people and pets. I saw a rabbit on a lead once. That was good.
My favourite place to run? It’s hard to answer. Running by the sea is amazing. You get massive winds and the waves. That feels pretty exhilarating. You get the enjoyment of the run, and there is something breathtaking about doing it by the sea.
There’s a run round the lake near my home. I like that. I’m at home. It’s beautiful and all the memories of that space, and the comfort of that environment that I’ve returned to for twenty years, come back to me.
© Copyright Arthur Knaggs 2019