Dr Julie Carter



Reflections on the shifting meanings of why I run.

I am at my friend’s kitchen table with a brew in hand.

“I’ve lost my faith. I feel empty. I don’t feel like a fellrunner anymore. Maybe I just need to accept it”

My friend, Cat Evans, doesn’t rush for some quick or glib reassurance but we talk about what it means to be a fellrunner. We both have many other aspects to our existence and we could live good and fulfilled lives without fellrunning. Maybe I need to move on then, and not be so grief stricken over my loss.

That same morning I’d been up Dale Head with a creative young woman who wanted to photograph and interview me for a book which she is making on fellrunners and their motives. I’d felt a little fraudulent—because my running is far from what it was and really isn’t anything much these days by outward assessment. I run at a steady pace, for pleasure, and sometimes days on end go by without me even managing that. Because unless I am wholly absorbed in the flow of an all-consuming experience, I always have some degree of pain and this makes me tired. Often too tired to run these days. The pain started when I was a young child because of a deformity in my back. One of the reasons I came to love fellrunning is the powerful analgesic effect that total focus can bring, especially in a race. But in recent times pain has sapped my energy and my will, to such an extent that it’s hard to get beyond my garden gate. So, I talk to Cat about these feelings, and we interrogate them, and begin to put me back together.

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“At least you were up a fell this morning Jules—bet it was gorgeous.”

“It was freezing in that easterly. Dale Head was covered in grey cloud but, when we got up, it went all wispy and white. It was like watching a painter at work, the swirls and patterns all shape-shifting until the view all the way down Newlands cleared.”

I pause to finish my tea.

“You get this feeling—don’t you—up there. Everything opens up. Something happens in the middle of me like my body is letting go. It’s hard to describe. But you can’t stop it happening and you can’t make it happen. It’s a kind of awakening.”

By now Cat is smiling and nodding and then goes to put the kettle back on while responding:

“It’s got very little to do with performance goals. The culture of running is all about achievement and you’ve done so much Jules. Achievement and competition can be an important part of it but they don’t define fellrunning.”

As Cat refills my mug I feel the empty feeling inside begin to dissolve and I muse that:

“I hate the jargon that’s become so dominant. “Smash it! Destroy it!”—I’m not breaking something, I’m creating something.”

I always said it’s about the experience and not the outcome. I always said that it’s not really just a sport but a kind of artistic practice and that a good run is a work of art. Certainly, part of that art is about fitness and having trained and being willing to go to the edge of my ability. It is not possible to experience the whole of it without sometimes going right to the edge of what I can do. A dancer or musician does not bring half of themselves to their art. It’s not like doing a job of work just to get a pay-packet. Then it dawns on me what all my emotional struggling is about. The pay-packet of other people’s approval is becoming less important to me. It is this need for approval, and not the fellrunning itself, that I want to let go of. We all need approval, its normal, but one of the advantages of getting older is that I seem to need it less. I’m breaking free from existing primarily within the containers designed by others. My goals are becoming more esoteric, more personal. I am more focussed on curiosity and exploration. I want the romance, the art, the beauty. I want the companionship and connection too—the laughs, the tears and shared memories. And these I am frightened of losing because of being less swept along in the fellrunning scene. It was relief to find that someone I respect so much as Cat also questions the prevailing culture. And I am still a fellrunner—just a slower and less conformist one.

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So, the next day I run my favourite route over Ard Crags and Robinson. Just me and Moss the dog. I tune into my body and my discomfort and I don’t try to block it out. But neither do I get distressed about the various pains that wax and wane. I’ve got to know that there’s no use slamming the door in pain’s face and pretending it’s not there, and no use getting angry with it and punching it on the nose either. Instead, I invite pain in for a cup of tea and hope it sits down quietly and doesn’t make trouble.

After my run I only have time for a quick shower before my afternoon is taken up with a hospital appointment. If there’s a form to fill in which asks my religion I’ll put “Fellrunner”. Fellrunning is not my obsession or my addiction and it has ceased to be something which feeds my need for approval. It is a practice, like any other creative practice. Fellrunning is a space I exist in where the false divisions between mind and body and environment dissolve. Having a powerfully physical connection to the fells gives me a feeling of being part of something much bigger and longer lasting than myself. This makes my mortality easier to bear. I am a Fellrunner—running, running, running my way back in.

FELLRUNNER Jessie Leong F79A2773 2

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