So this has been doing the rounds on the internet over the last few days:
It is an article about Amtrak’s (the US railway service) plans to set up writing residencies. Essentially writers, of all sorts, will be given free long-distance trips on their rail service in order to write. I am a HUGE fan of this.
I have long used my train travel to get work done, I do it everyday on my commute and my undergraduate dissertation would never have been complete without a few longer-distance travels I made in the run-up to deadline day. I find the train a really good environment in which to write / work – partly it is the lack of internet facilities (although this is changing rapidly) and other distractions such as TV, intermittent phone signal etc.; there is the ‘what else can I do’ factor; there is the sociality of a train which stipulates as little contact should be made with other people as possible – burying your head in work certainly helps with this. For me however, the most important factor that makes the train a great working environment is its sense of finitude. The train has a destination, its deadline is clear and timetabled, you have a set amount of time to get things done and the train will continue whether you do so or not. I need deadlines and that’s why I love working on the go.
The Gift of Travel-Time
There is now a great appreciation of the ability and importance of using travel-time productively, no doubt aided by the growing mobility of technology and greater capabilities to work on the go. Yet much transport planning is predicated on travel-time as being a waste of time and that the economic goal of transport should be to deliver people to where they are going as quickly as possible – as seen with the huge spending on HS2, which delivers comparably small time-savings.
Research undertaken by geographers and transport researchers, such as Glenn Lyons and Juliet Jain, from the early 2000s has sought to readdress this and demonstrated the numerous benefits of having travel time and the ways that time spent moving can be productive rather than just dead time. They term this the gift of travel time. There is the obvious benefit of doing work itself but beyond that they identify travelling as ‘time-out’ – the opportunity relax, read a book, listen to music, sleep and escape etc. They also evidence how integral travelling is to transitioning between places, e.g. work and home, allowing for burdens to be shed, the switching of roles and gearing up for the demands of the destination.
Running and Travel Time
I have long been intrigued about how these insights – that time spent moving is not just dead time – relate to running. What else do we do when running? What other things do we use running as a vehicle for? What does running allow to be done and what does it restrict? What do we do when we run?
Now running does differ (in most cases) from other travel-time in the fact that it is often a choice to make that movement. Whereas we may have to catch the train to get to work, it is mostly a choice to go running – movement made for movement’s sake – it never is simply going to be dead time. Yet while running is a physically all-encompassing activity, in many ways it is mentally freeing and offers runners the chance to do other things on the run.
Personally I use running for socialising, working through problems, exploring new places, practicing presentations and feeling alive as well as just for running. Friends have described to me how they use their running time to listen to music – running being the only time they get to. Others have told me they use running as a time out – recognising the mental freeing of running and choosing to do nothing with that freedom except enjoy it.
As a geographer I am not only fascinated what we do when on the move but how this affects our relationship with the spaces around us, our relationship with the practice and with ourselves. Do we choose different routes when we run for socialising rather than running for exploring? Are we still a runner if our prime motivation is providing time for listening to music? How do the different things we do on the run affect how we experience it, how it feels? If we conduct different activities on different routes, do we represent these spaces differently – are some spaces of socialising, spaces of problem solving etc? Do we run differently when conducting other activities?
I understand running as a way of being in and experiencing the world. Each different ‘way’ we run alters our relationship with the world, ourselves and the practice. I hope to be able to explore these much further over the PhD and would be very keen to hear what you do on the run. What else do you use running for?