I am a runner... apparently

I am a runner... apparently

Jo Sundberg

Jo Sundberg

July 7 8 min read

It took me 36 years of running to be able to receive and accept those words, given by others, as a label for myself.

“Ahhhh you’re a runner” they inform me as I tie up my Hoka shoelaces.

“Oh, no, not really,” I respond, shaking my head no.

“I move in nature. I go slow, I breathe in the Kanuka, I pause to listen to the Tūī singing, I stop to take photos of wet golden leaves and long forgotten kayaks hiding in the lupins, I smile and say hello to the fantails who flit along beside me. A tiny lizard scuttles across my path, my slow gait ensures he has a safe get away, tail flicking this way and that. A stone glistens with gold, a child’s lost mitten sits on a stile. A fresh dog shit is avoided just in time. The beauty of slow running is that you don’t miss a thing. I take a moment to pick a twig of pink wild flowers, slipping the branch down my bra for safe keeping. It pricks and prods me but I soon get used to it. It feels nice to have flowers pressed on my heart.

At home later, when undressing, the flowers drop to the floor, momentarily forgotten. A few drops of red blood mark my heart. I place the wilting flowers in water and there they are now, revitalised and smiling at me, their heads up, reminding me of what is possible.

One hour later, my reply has slipped into a one hour soliloquy on the joy of moving in nature, on the question of “to be or not to be … a runner.” A soliloquy, as by the end of my reply, it’s just me and my running shoes remaining.

Jo's trail running shoes

I have always cared about words and their meanings. I like to consider, to taste, to roll the words around my mind and my mouth. Trying them out for size. Does this really touch on the truth of it? I ask myself. I should have been a lawyer. This contemplative quality is possibly pedantic and definitely frustrating at times for those close to me as I take 10 minutes to reframe and answer a question which was expected to be a 5 second yes or no reply.

Luckily those close to you love you for who you are, your idiosyncrasies included. I like to believe that my loved ones ultimately also find joy and learning from my word play.

We like to define people don’t we. You are a runner, They are rich, they are poor, THEY are crazy! Putting things in boxes makes life easier to manage. If life is about making things easier for yourself…

I am more interested though, in the qualities of the person rather than the label. Their WHY, their North Star. Why do you run? What happens for you when you’re out there? How do you feel when you finish?

Whatever label people put on us, it’s what we say to ourselves that is most important of all though, isn’t it? Those core beliefs and statements that motivate all of our behaviour.

So yeah, I run. I move in nature. This description feels to me less SERIOUS than “I am a runner.” There is more space around it for adaptation. People have commented, “wow you’re a serious runner aren’t you?” Do I look serious when I run? Do I wear an earnest expression or a frown upon my forehead? I hope not. I attempt to greet every person who passes by with a genuine heart felt smile.

Even when they are an ex who turns the other way. The word “serious” makes me feel very unserious indeed. It brings on a slight rebelliousness. Perhaps this stems from my childhood, all those Serious Presbyterian Sunday church sessions. Serious buyers only the ad for the unique home states. You guys look like you’re in a Serious relationship they say. Yes very serious, I respond, with as much gravity as possible. A hint of a smile tugs at my mouth as I play again with the wonder of words.

In my mind a Serious Runner is someone who is fast. Someone who loves to measure things like heart rate and miles achieved and PB’s. They wear special tracking equipment. They go to running coaches to learn how to run. I never learnt how to run. I taught myself. Amazing eh! This is probably why my style is very unique….recognised from miles away. Serious runners run in packs. You have to move out of the way when you hear their serious footsteps racing up behind you.

Often those serious runners are training for an event. “What are you training for?” they ask.

I’m training for life. I reply.

I run because it moves me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. That may sound a bit wanky but it’s the truth of it. I’m not sure why people sometimes get a bit uptight when you talk about holistic health. Wanky Swanky Hanky Panky is all I have to say to that. In other words, silliness is best met with silliness.

I started running in my early teens to physically put some distance between myself and what were at times, difficult home dynamics. A drug free prescription for any teenager struggling to make sense of the world. Back then I would just run down to the end of my suburban street and hide behind a grove of mandarin trees. I can still smell the scent of mandarins and the sharp citrus of the leaves. The ocean breeze blows my hair. I take deep mandarin cleansing breaths. It helped.

After living in Sweden for a year when I was 16 I ran to shift the weight of köttbullar, Skånsk potatis, färskpotatis, potatoes potatoes potatoes oh how the Swedes love their potatoes, Smörgåstårta ( google it- a cake made with layer upon layer of sliced white bread, cream, herring, shrimp, ham, cucumber, cheese, dill, you name it, it was in there. How can such a thing be so delicious? I’m not sure, but it was), kanelbullar, and the whole assortment of the 7 sweet offerings of Fika. Fika, where the host must, absolutely MUST, offer seven ( I never asked, why seven?) different types of sugary pastries and home baking goods along with endless pots of hot steaming coffee and entertaining snacka (chats).

When it’s minus 25 degrees celsius outside why wouldn’t you enjoy these sugary Swedish highs? Well, I discovered why not, when my buttons started popping off my shirts and skirts. And the buttons weren’t popping off because some cute Scandi boy had taken a liking to me.

That was 1988 and the last time I thought about running for weight loss reasons. What running does for me, is to clear a space. Running gets me unstuck. It moves me out of my head. It’s where writing inspiration always floats in. Oh quick grab it grab it before it disappears! Voice memos can be handy when out running, although when replayed later I can hardly hear my words, just breath and feet splatting on the ground.

Running is where everything is ok.

There is a bigger perspective. It sets me up for my day. It fuels me. It’s a sacred act. It’s a connection with creativity, with nature, and a connection with myself and my breath.

I did actually do some events, back in the day, just like a true Serious Runner would. I liked the ones that took you to the more remote parts of New Zealand which you can’t usually access without special permits and land owner arrangements. I wasn’t in to win or to get a personal best. I was in it to discover more of this absolutely beautiful country we live in. I was in it also to discover myself.

To do something new. To see my limits. To push through. To get out of my comfort zone.

I often never told anyone I was doing the event. I would decide the night before sometimes and just turn up on the day - no specific “training” prep done. None of that big run day, fast run day, day off, carb day, protein day stuff. Just Jo days of the pleasure of running was my training. Please do not take this as a recommendation. If you actually want to win, let alone survive, I wouldn’t advise this method. It’s just me and how I do things sometimes.

We are very very lucky here in New Zealand with nature at our doorstep. I am thankful for that every day. Some may have to use a running machine in a gym because of pollution or dense city living. I can’t even imagine. That is not running to me. That’s like the difference between instant coffee and espresso brew. But I know it’s all there is for some.

Winter hat or summer cap I am out there. I love running in heat: 38 degrees in Melbourne, Fiji or Bali. Running is a great way to sight see and get your bearings when travelling. I love running in a storm best of all though. Sleet blasting into my cheeks, eyes watering, mouth open taking in as much of the storm as I can. It costs less than a face lift and I am sure is just as effective. Well, many may disagree upon closer inspection of my outdoor complexion.

Running is a metaphor for life. The heavy sand you push through, the wind that you double over and put your head down into, the hills and then the TOP of the hill exhilaration, the easier down hill joy. The stumbles and trips, the freedom and the flow.

So I think at the age of 52 I can finally say “Hi my name is Jo and I run and yes go on then ….I am a runner.”

Trail running bliss

This has been a marathon blog. If you’re still here with me thank you for keeping me company.

What lights you up? What do you do regularly that both elevates and grounds you? And if there isn’t anything you are doing right now, then perhaps you could just take one step. That’s all it takes. Just one step in the direction of where you want to go.

With love

Jo xx

Check out more of Jo's blogs, Raw and Unfiltered.