One of my favorite runs in London is through Hyde Park. No big surprise. There may not be a more beautiful inner city run anywhere in the world. What may be a surprise to those who simply put on their trainers and run their workout is the full complement of activities going on simultaneously. The park is a smorgasbord of people enjoying their own versions of sport and leisure. To focus on only our own activity is to miss the richness of the mix.
In a single hour of a single day in Hyde Park, I’ve seen horses and bicycles, paddlers and joggers, and a host of walkers with and without their dogs. It’s a kaleidoscope experience that nearly defies description. But what turns these solitary activities into the mosaic of Hyde Park is the charm of the setting and the relentless spirit of the motion. Everywhere you look there is movement. Some fast and some slow. Some elegant and some strained. But it is time and place where movement is the most natural state.
Not that there isn’t movement throughout the city. On the streets and on the tube, people are in constant motion. But that movement is constrained by schedules and destinations. It is encumbered by time and cluttered by others whose motion is contrary. It is not the unfettered freedom of the park.
I think that down deep, below the reasons most of us would give for being runners – you know those well-rehearsed rationales for stealing time away to run such as it’s lowering our cholesterol – the real reason most of us run is because it allows us to be in motion. It allows us to move at a pace of our own choosing without relying on the whim of a transit system or the capriciousness of traffic.
For much of our non-running lives, the direction and speed of our movement is controlled by someone or something else. There are delays and disruptions that require us to change our plans. There are people whose movement seems to be designed for one purpose only: to make our movement impossible. And worse, the entire world seems to conspire to keep us stationary.
When we run, we run by ourselves and for ourselves. We are taken back to a place and time when we took the freedom to move for granted. We are transported out of the world of our adult responsibilities and set down – if only briefly – in the world where the movement of play was the basis of our lives. We are able to remember with our bodies what our minds may have long forgotten: that moving is better than standing still, and that being active is what we were designed to do.
The truth is that some of our bodies seemed to have been designed to move much faster than others. My body, even with a solid training plan, never wants to go faster than what some consider slow. I can sometimes get it to move less slowly, but nothing in the structure of my body compels it to move with grace or speed.
I always let my eyes wander as I run through Hyde Park. I want to make sure that I don’t miss those who enjoy what I don’t. I want to make sure that I encounter not just the activities but the people. I want to try to find the source of their joy as well as my own. If I can, I want to know not just what they enjoy doing, but why. I believe that despite the obvious difference in modes, we are connected by our desire and need to move.
The next time you have a chance to run or walk through Hyde Park, or anywhere else where there are people enjoying a variety of activities, take the time to stop and watch. Those bikers and horses aren’t really interfering with your workout, they’re adding their color to the activity pallet. It may not be the color you would choose, but it’s a color worth seeing.
Waddle on, friends.
Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive