Thursday, 4 June 2015

Running for Perennial

On 12 July 2015 I shall be running the British 10K through the streets of London in aid of Perennial, the Gardeners Royal Benevolent Society. I run regularly – albeit rather slowly – enjoying the time and space it gives me to think things through, and often wondering if there can be any conceivable link between the enjoyment I get from plodding along pavements and country lanes, and that which I feel when engaged in horticultural pursuits. This post has been languishing half written in my draft folder for over a year now. Time to polish it it up and share it with you.

Running and gardening. Two activities you might not consider to occupy much common ground. I enjoy both, though I'm not about to advocate that every gardener should take up running. And I certainly can’t claim ever to have attempted indulging in the one while simultaneously being immersed in the other – in fact, rather than dashing about at breakneck speed on the other end of a hoe, it could be argued that I can be a bit too cerebral in my own garden; it’s good to stop and think, and dream about how the garden could be, but the vision won’t even begin to be realised until you get down to it. And as for gardening while out running, I couldn’t so much as hazard a guess how that might be done.

But, for me at any rate, there are similarities between running and gardening; if not in the outworking of each, then in the processes I observe within myself, as well as in some of the external factors which govern the results of my efforts.

There are three things about running – three limiting factors, if you like. Breath. Legs. Mind. When I get these three in balance and under control, I almost feel as though I’m flying, speeding through the landscape powered by nothing other than sunlight and my own body’s energy, each foot strike simulataneously grounding me to the earth and pushing me off from it. But the three things are not often in balance, and they’re rarely under my control; either I’m not quite sucking in enough oxygen with each breath to power me efficiently through to the next, or my leg muscles are tight; the outside of one knee is grumbling (tight illiotibial band), the inside of the other is sore (tight inner quads), or my feet are thudding into the ground like jack hammers, but with none of that marvellously elastic recoil that powers me along on the good days (tight shins). And, on the rare occasions where I’m breathing well and my legs are springy and strong, my mind will start casting about for problems, running through increasingly neurotic self-diagnostic routines, and trying to convince me that a nice rest by the next field gate would be just the thing, and hardly knock anything off my time at all, if it didn’t help me to run the next leg even faster. The physical factors – hills, weather, ground conditions – can seem as nothing to the combined double whammy of body and brain when I’m out on a run.

As with running, so with gardening. It looks like an entirely physical occupation, but part of the attraction is the constant mental engagement with your garden. You’re continually on the lookout for signs, those points of information that alert you to the presence of a pest, disease, or some form of environmental stress. And, should you be in the fortunate position to have relieved your plants from the limiting factors which threaten to stunt their healthy grown – light, warmth, water, nutrition, the absence of nasty things – then you’ll no doubt be battling physical restrictions – insufficient space, quirks of design and landscaping, lack of time... a seemingly endless list, each item extending an accusatory finger in the direction of the gardener. I ask myself,  (trying very hard not to sound too much like Carrie Bradshaw); with my own personal resources, how much of a limiting factor to the development of my garden am I?

That’s a big question, and probably one of the main reasons I’m often to be found standing up to my knees in goosegrass in the middle of a flower bed, apparently lost in reverie.  I know my own abilities and vision place a limit on the potential of my garden, but I can take steps to minimise this effect. I can put in the time training, expanding my horticultural skills through reading, pracitising, and talking to more experienced gardeners, and – as with running – I can look after my own personal fitness level. I want to be supple enough to garden well into my old age, so I intend to keep active. I eat a good diet, I run, I stretch – I try not to take my body for granted. I even dabble with yoga from time to time – but if I’m a journeyman gardener, and a pretty bad runner, I’m utterly terrible at yoga. I’ll keep at it, though, in my own (unbendy) way.

I’ve had a few gardening related niggles – pulled muscles, sore knees, tennis elbow, nothing too serious, but enough to remind me how important our bodies are to us gardeners. But while we can do our utmost to guard against the injury and illness that would curtail or even put an end to our favourite activity, sometimes things can happen that are beyond our control – devastating to the keen gardener, and financially crippling to the professional. In such cases – as well as in instances where those dependent on a living in horticulture find themsselves in straightened circumstances for whatever reason – the charity Perennial is there to help, and I’m proud to be able to run for them in July. There are, of course, a wealth of good and deserving causes, but if you’re reading this it’s likely that you have some interest in gardens, and I would urge you to have a look at the Perennial website at to see the important work that they do. And if you’d like to sponsor me for the British 10k, please visit my justgiving page here