This, the first podcast on The Phraser, is an interview with Arthur Knaggs, author of Chasing Laces. The book, written in 2019, is in the words of the runners he interviewed last year, before COVID-19 reached the UK.
By Arthur Knaggs
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. (Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)
“You don’t get anywhere by magic, but only by putting in the required number of steps, one at a time and in the correct sequence. You can’t run the last lap of a mile until you’ve run the first three. There is a truth, a beauty and a symmetry in this that is inviolate. Every step counts.” (Bernd Heinrich, Why We Run)
London. An athletics track. Evening. Clouds hang fat and heavy in the sky above Parliament Hill. There is a low-key festival atmosphere that grows as the light fades.
A tall man with dark hair, Dr. Smith was easy to pick out as he approached the cafe where we had agreed to meet. There was only one bench in the café and we shared the table with a family of three. As well as being an academic, Dr Smith works with elite level athletes to improve their running performance. Throughout the interview, his voice remained calm and level. He explained complicated ideas concisely and with great patience.
Will spoke to me from his sofa. He hadn’t moved all day and was using crutches. He had just finished running a 100-miler that morning. He spoke slowly and sounded knackered. He missed the cut-off for a buckle by less than half an hour.
I’m a bit tired and emotional. My whole body is pretty achy. The run was good. It was tough to finish and I’m glad I did. I got two huge blisters on my feet just behind the base of my big toe. Every step, particularly downhill, meant that I was sliding onto those blisters in my shoes.
Archie walks into the cafe with a long and happy stride. He has dark hair that bounces off his shoulders, and a smile that starts in the corners of his eyes. He wears a cap and carries a longboard. He sits down on the stool opposite me, then bounces back up almost at once to get some food. He’s not going to be in the country much longer, and tells me that I am lucky to catch him. Archie is moving to Canada.
Dr Parker is a Lecturer in Physical Activity and Health. She is also a runner. A slim woman, in a blue t-shirt, Dr Parker spoke with great enthusiasm and knowledge about a sport that she loves. Injuries have prevented her from running competitively but, as she came to tell me, for her running means much more than running fast.
Running is a huge area of research, but the science behind it is a little bit wobbly, so I might not have very definite answers to some of your questions.
George was early. In fact he was a week early. I didn’t expect his email. “I’m standing at the entrance, are you down the stairs, or on the shop floor level?” I was actually at the top of Box Hill. I had a minor panic. Had I given him the wrong day? No. That was good. We tried again the following week. This time, George was late. He left university last year but looked younger. Just under 6ft, he was obviously athletic but came across as nervous. He took his time to find the right words … but always did.