Keep it simple stupid.

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Less will always triumph over more. Photo by Paul Petch.

Less will always triumph over more. Photo by Paul Petch.

I remember seeing a video of  Anton Krupicka and thinking, ” Wow… that’s what running means to me too”. The simplicity and freedom was beautiful. I crave the paring back of experience, the focus on nothing other than one foot in front of the other.

In 2012, I had the opportunity to work with Anton and photograph him as part of a visit to New Zealand for the fledgling Tarawera Ultra. I have some really fond memories of spending time with Tony as a ‘real person’ and what running meant to him personally, however I felt a deep sense of discord between the person that I saw in front of me versus the athlete that was portrayed by his sponsors, event and in the media.  I came away feeling like my ideals were shattered. I believe that the majority of the messages we receive from  large running brands and events are utter rubbish. I suspect many of us know this deep down, but like most of modern society, running culture is controlled by people finding new ways to make us spend money, lots of money at any cost. But how exactly? I mean isn’t running just as simple as lacing up and heading out the door?

Running deserves better than this. Running needs to be simple once again.

Our grandparents often state ‘things were different when I was your age’ and I’m sure running was too, so what’s so different today? Well, how about this; Modern running culture has encouraged us to forget the fundamental nature of running. Instead, shaping us to become digitally obsessive, compulsive and comparative of both ourselves and each other.

It’s true, most of us exist in a world controlled by technology, however it feels like we’ve reached the point where people forget that there is still a real world. A world which differs markedly from the split second precision and instant gratification of our various electronic devices, where Facebook spam of runners scaling ‘tall mountains’ in a single super human leap. A digital escapism with a timeline of its own, which doesn’t correspond with the seconds of a normal stopwatch, or the pounding of a heart. Increasingly, when we run, our reliance on technology moves us away from the truths running offers; instead, it pulls our focus toward arbitrary comparison and less self worth.

I’m sure that you will agree that the act of running itself connects us more to our primeval past that can ever be replicated by our modern connection with technology. Running without distraction helps us find a ‘realness’  within ourselves that challenges the structured and scripted world that we find ourselves within. Running induces an honesty in us that’s so often missing from our everyday lives.

Ultimately, running quickens our sense of wonder. The true blessing of running is not that it provides a challenge or contest to be overcome and dominated, rather it offers something softer and infinitely more powerful. Running reignites our sense of astonishment at the physical world and our place within it. Running celebrates every second of life with a heart beat and reassuring reality of how small we are in this universe.

The ‘do it at all costs’ attitude of some athletes, coaches and brands sits at odds with this simple sense of wonder and honesty. Like modern life where being busy is for the glorious perceived over achievers, running culture is on this very cusp- where “running yourself into the ground is now a status symbol”, This notion of overtraining, and logging needless ‘internet’ kilometres to the cadence of an electronic device – is one of the major issues that running faces.

Today, the simplicity of just ‘going for a run’ and our humble culture seems to have got lost amongst over-processed and staged photography, amongst videos pushed out through every social media channel to the point of hyperbole. The over played ‘for the love of it’ mixed in with massive teams of people who live to sell stuff. Lots of stuff. It feels like a circus, the inauthenticity is nauseating. It appears going large is the new 5KM, and athletes who once thrived on minimal running lifestyles now promote everything from energy bars, backpacks and socks. Socks that will make you perform like a pro ultra runner no less…and we seemingly love this noise.

When you cut through the aspirational buzz and distraction, the anxiety producing media barrage from the leading running brands, running is ALWAYS going to be about putting one foot in front of the other. Moving forward. At the end of things, light and quiet; focused, light and quiet; we are connected to a animalistic beauty that cannot be made in a factory and sold.  If we just let it be; running is beautifully simplistic.

The true blessing of running is not that it provides a challenge or contest to be overcome and dominated, rather it offers something softer and infinitely more powerful.

Our current obsession with the latest and greatest is completely contrary to everything that the art of running teaches us. Here it is, folks; There is no fast track, there is no easy fix, the newest thing will not make you a runner that you want to be. To gain value from running, like most skills we learn in life, the act of running deserves your exclusive attention. It deserves you. I’m not talking crazy distances either- rather regular investment outside of digital – where any distance and that ‘flow’  exist where senses are heightened and your mind and body become one. The space between the noise, where gear and marketing don’t have a standing. The space where you find fleeting moments of grace, connection to your surroundings and increased awareness of your being. This is why running matters, and why it is so damn good.

I’ve run for a number of years now and sit comfortably with enjoying my own company. I run for less noise, not more. I used to live in a place where ready access to the hills, the wide open spaces and being alone eased my connection with the wilderness within myself. A few years ago we moved to central Auckland, I was faced with a challenge. Could I obtain the simplicity I craved whilst running in an urban environment? Escape and freedom is what you make it; It’s there if you let it in.

The warm sun on my face and Winter chills still exist, along with the act of moving forward. I love to feel the ground underneath my feet. Those little imperfections and objects underfoot all make the connection with my environment stronger. Imperfections that make us who we are in life, where connection is key. Those shoes, that app, watch, or flashy pack mean nothing when the grimace strikes or you wipe the sweat from your steaming brow and stinging eyes. When the noise subsides what matters is simply moving forward. Breathing, focused, and feeling real.

‘Just running’ will always triumph.

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Paul Petch
Director of Good People Run, pro photographer, tutor and a recovering 'runaholic'. Based in Auckland City, my work is at www.paulpetchphoto.com
Paul Petch

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