Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Running Craft


Running provides a small way to reconnect with time. Perhaps it is here that the similarities between running and craft begin. When so much of daily life is lived in haste, a long run can quite literally slow things down. You don’t often hear long distance runners bemoaning how quickly the finish line appeared before them, incredulous that it was all over so soon. Those hours, be it the two hours and a few minutes of the current marathon world record holder or the four hours considered a typical finishing time cannot be lived without intention.

As an adult I returned to running, perhaps not unusually, to cope with grief. Few other activities sanction time alone in quite the same way as running. If nothing else, you are unlikely to find yourself lumbered with uninvited companions. But running and craft also share an ability to present a humbling distance between idea and reality, thinking about doing and actually doing. Over time change does occur. Skill begins to make illusive appearances. With skill comes confidence, the ability to set about things a little differently than before.

Why can be curiously hard to pin down. There are days when nothing should go right – lunch skipped, head full of distractions and ease graces the whole endeavour. Equally inexplicable are the days when nothing feels right. Greater skill or control and a sense of accomplishment are – hopefully – the pay offs. But there are also benefits less frequently cited. Richard Askwith, author of Feet in the Clouds: A tale of fell-running and obsession observes how risk adverse British culture has become – and how fell runners knew, and know – the risks involved with tackling on foot rough terrain at speed. That is at least in part the point: accepting responsibility for one’s own actions be they clever or clumsy.

Askwith describes his own increased fitness and confidence running the fells made him realise that “for most of my adult life, I had been encased in an imperceptible but increasingly constricting shell of physical caution”. I would venture that today physical caution cocoons much of our daily lives. Physical failure is crushingly tangible. But where physical caution flourishes, mental caution follows. Sometimes this is not all bad. Society needs the wisdom to know the difference between the achievable and the not, and more crucially what is important and what is not. But anticipation of failure, deflection of failure, avoidance of failure are all – consciously or not – incredibly limiting outlooks.

In our era of collaborative obsession, running – for many enthusiasts at least – is a highly individual and intentionally solitary discipline. It is clear that distance running doesn’t entice many, although popularity is on the rise. Those already interested are – injuries aside – converts. But simultaneously, for those uninterested, the idea appals. Haruki Murakami in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running refers to running as “both exercise and a metaphor”. Isn’t this how we often describe craft: an action, an object, but also a metaphor for a set of ideals and values. Is there space in our contemporary definitions of craft to include such an outlook? It strikes me that to not would be a loss. Expertise is only acquired over time. Shortcuts are foolhardy. And while talent is always a welcome addition to graft, it is hopeless if the only ingredient.

Jessica Hemmings 13.07.2015