Forgive me diving straight in with a personal question, but in the context of a sexual encounter, would you rather experience the sensations or recall the mechanics. I’m not looking for an answer, but I’d argue that asking your brain – during – to remember each move might detract somewhat from your pleasure.  

Now, this blog isn’t about sex, so you’re safe to read on. It’s about the difference between the experiencing-self and the remembering-self.  Although that might look as though we’ve jumped straight from sex to psychology, believe it or not, I’m talking about running. Let me explain. 

We all have our own reasons for entering an on- or off-road event, but for some it’s to log a new route and experience the surroundings – which can often, for good reasons, be uninspiring. Also, while recording the route on a GPS watch, some seek to chat to like-minded others - which isn’t always welcome if it’s a ‘race’ scenario. This desire to connect to others and capture routes is understandable. We’re social creatures and planning and gaining route knowledge, especially off-road or trail, takes up precious time that many would rather spend running.

Quite frequently, runners on LTR events will confess that they primarily booked on with the intention of remembering or recording our route. Often, they’re keen to return and bring along a friend to share the new places, the hidden gems and intricate trails they first experienced with us. We’ve got no problem with that, although in truth, even when the route has been tracked by a GPS-enabled device, re-running an LTR route it is not as straightforward as you might think. 

You start off quietly confident. You can end up plagued with doubt, poring over the map on your phone thinking I really don’t remember this bit. Which of those three identical looking tracks through the trees was it? Did we come down the field on the left or right side of the fence? Surely this section across the moor didn’t take so long to run last time. 

The art of remembering relies on a different part of the brain to the one that’s processing your experiences. Ask your brain to perform both tasks at the same time and you’ll compromise the results for both. That’s why some runners turn up with the intention of remembering our routes but find themselves unable to recall the details as their brain starts to prioritise enjoyment. Their experiencing-self begins to have fun. They become too caught up in the moment to be storing the details of turning left then right, over the footbridge, round by the wall, through the gate and over the stile. Instead, they’re noticing the colours in a patch of moss, catching the glint of mica in a bed of rock or chatting to someone who’s right on their wavelength. 

Every magical moment, be it the sound of a woodpecker, the scent of gorse or something funny a fellow runner has just said, needs you to be there – present in that moment. If you’re fretting about your performance metrics, unfortunately you’ll miss the essence of a truly enriching and social experience. 

Most people arrive at their first LTR event with a few reservations. At the end of the run, whatever the distance, whatever our pace, they’re absolutely buzzing. That’s because for a couple of hours at least, they’ve forgotten about that satellite. They’ve embraced the moment.

Kate Woodward

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