I’ve written or edited scores of patient information resources. My big takeaway from health comms was working out that we prefer or trust the information we get from fellow sufferers, people who’ve also experienced what we have, or are likely to. Clinicians can give us the facts, but we may not want to hear them. Often we just don’t understand the language they use. And, more than likely, it lacks empathy. Run for Your Life is a new magazine that shares the viewpoint of the everyday runner and, although I am not one of those and I'm still unlikely to enter next year's Bath Half-Marathon, I knew straight away I was going to enjoy it.
Things get out of the blocks with David who worries about putting on weight when he stops smoking. He starts running with his friends and eventually joins a group in training for a half-marathon. This is something he might have considered previously beyond him, but he manages three half-marathons in a single year. Such an achievement might easily be the whole story, yet David fails to see the point of distance running and is unable to establish any goals to help him train. He gives up exercising entirely and hits the heaviest weight he’s ever been. And we’re only in the fourth paragraph on the first page of David’s eight-page testimony. Goals are not a problem for Grace who takes up running while at university. She’s pleased with herself when she can run without stopping over the course of four songs on her jogging mixtape. She’s slow improver, always picking up tips from experienced runners and learning to set achievable targets until one day, while studying in Hong Kong, she decides (‘while drunk’) to enter the Hong Kong Disneyland 10K. Her new goal is ‘to reach a level of fitness where I wouldn’t embarrass myself’. How does she get on? Obviously I’m not going to give that away, but again we’re only in the foothills of Grace’s personal tale.
There are eleven interviews in Run For Your Life, linked together without any overarching view of the activity. There couldn’t be, because we arrive at things for different reasons and in different ways. Jon took time off work to provide palliative care for his young son. He takes up cycling and then endurance sports to manage his headspace. Following the death of his son he takes part in a half-Iron Man and finds the running element appealing, particularly the agonising struggle because, as he explains, ‘it validated the internal pain I was feeling’. On a significantly lighter note, Ken takes up running because of an extra-marital affair. In 1979 he’s lost his driver’s licence and the nearest phone box is almost a mile away. He tells his now ex-wife that he’s going out for a run, and sprints to the phone box to call Pam, the woman who is still his partner today: ‘I found I quite enjoyed the running so I tried going to phone boxes further away because it was safer. That was my first experience of running.’ Although Ken has a remarkably relaxed approach to running, he’s run the major marathons (over 100 marathons in total) and still averages 15 miles a week. He’s the oldest interviewee and his views are based on several decades of observation. When he started running marathons it seemed the norm for runners to chat among themselves for the duration of the race, whereas today, he says, people are much more circumspect and competitive: ‘They’ve all got watches on and when they pass you, you can hear the watch telling them the time and what they’re doing… I don’t know, I think that knocks your head around’.
It’s a good mix of contributions but key is their length. Rather than quick Q&As these are quite long pieces, with enough depth to round out the various personalities who take up the activity for different reasons. The same questions come around inevitably (‘Why did you start running?’) but the varying trajectories, enjoyments and achievements of these everyday runners stops things becoming samey and does lead to some interesting inquiries: ‘What ratio would you put on the runs that are fun and those that are pure slog?’, ‘Do you think it’s energy-giving or energy-taking?’ or ‘Does being vegan impact on your ability to run at all?’
Run For Your Life is created by Luke Leighfield (along with design by Tom Withers and photography by Tom Price) who tells us he’s been running for nine years. Nothing is being sold or preached in this great little magazine. It’s an easy, affirming and inspirational read that works on a self-identification basis, as I mentioned at the beginning. This is far removed from self-help or expert guides, and all you’ll need to enjoy it is an interest in health and exercise – and the lives of others.