The everyday runner has to put up with all kinds of obstacles. Whether it be torrential rain, heavy winds, angry dogs or even unobservant pedestrians, there are countless reasons to stay alert whilst you’re out clocking up the miles.
But what if you were faced with something a little more challenging during your Sunday afternoon hill session? A wall perhaps? A sloped rail or a deep puddle that threatened to turn your brand new Asics a nice shade of brown?
Well, a bit of Parkour experience might come in handy.
Parkour (deriving from the French word Parcours, which literally means route or course) is a relatively new discipline being practiced by more and more enthusiasts every day.
The primary aim of the Parkour practitioner, or traceur, is quite simple. Through diligent training their goal is to prepare their bodies for any obstacle that might stand in their way and they would make light work of that wall, sloped rail or even the puddle that so very nearly submerged your favourite running shoes.
Utilising a combination of running techniques, blended with jumping, vaulting, rolling, balancing, climbing and swinging, the traceur is able to move wherever they wish with ease, unrestricted and free of almost any boundary, except their imagination.
The similarities between Parkour and running are numerous. Both forms of locomotion and exercise, they are each extremely accessible and often all that is needed to get started is a simple pair of running shoes. With no additional equipment required then, the limitations are few as there is no ball, board or bike in place to restrict you, simply the limitations of the human body.
That is not to say there are no differences between the runner and the traceur. On closer inspection there are quite a few.
Whilst the runner is likely to only think about dealing with an obstacle when they are faced with one, the practitioner of Parkour actively seeks out obstacles to hone their skills and practice their movements upon. In fact the majority of their time is spent practicing to be free in their movements, rather than just moving and facing whatever comes their way.
Most runners will spend the majority of their time directly practicing their sport and try to improve their technique during the activity, or might even work with a trainer, but they will spend most of their time running. Whereas in Parkour, a person might spend most of their week training individual elements or techniques and only combine them all in to a ‘run’ just a few times per week, depending on the individual.
And movement is only one part of the whole when it comes to Parkour. Back in the mid-eighties in a quiet suburb of Paris, it was in Lisses that the childhood games of a handful of kids would grow to inspire what we now call Parkour. There were no jumps or obstacles in the beginning, there was simply a desire to become stronger and challenge yourself. Can you lift that rock? Can you throw that stone across the lake? Can you jump and touch that branch or can you push that car? The children played every day and pushed themselves to achieve something new. As they grew up, they became stronger and fitter as their bodies adapted to their activities. It was only with a great deal of training behind them did they begin to wonder.. Can we jump from here to there?
Whilst some might then argue that Parkour is a new activity born in Lisses, that has evolved from running and various other activities, such as gymnastics, others agree that Parkour is one of the oldest disciplines known to man. Going back to a time when the first men and women had to hunt and fight for their survival each day, they would have used their bodies not just for running but for climbing, balancing, jumping and swinging too, indeed moving any way they can to avoid prey or to hunt. So to some, Parkour is a return to those roots rather than a new branch of running or gymnastics.
So is Parkour a sport? A discipline? An art form, maybe?
The term sport seems to suggest a competitive element these days and although competition is something that various organisations are trying to promote and organise, Parkour is a non-competitive activity.
To date, every large-scale organised instance of Parkour competition has resulted in at least one major injury to a competitor. This is chiefly due to the nature of the activity and the only safe way to progress is to work within, but of course close to, your limits. When competition is introduced, people are too eager to take chances and prove themselves better than their peers and it is only in stepping too far beyond these limits that Parkour becomes dangerous. More similar then to a martial art, Parkour is a discipline focused on self improvement and the mastery of oneself and the immediate environment.
Beginning your journey in Parkour as a runner, you might be surprised at just how different the respective practices feel, even if they might look similar at first glance. Very few muscles in the upper body are stressed to the extent they will be during a Parkour session and upper body strength and development is one of the first key focus areas of training for a new recruit. This, combined with exercises linked to balance, the passing of obstacles, ways of moving over, under and through your environment and drills to hone spatial awareness and adaptability all fuse to create a complete discipline for the body and mind. And it is this ‘mind’ aspect that also separates more traditional running activities, from Parkour.
Facing your fears plays a large part in most training sessions. Often you will not be sure as to whether you can pass an obstacle or a gap and it is only through your training and experience that you will come to realise what your body is truly capable of.
The fear and apprehension felt before a new movement is something that is rarely experienced in most running activities and something most people would do anything to avoid, but it is something you can learn to deal with and use to your advantage. Instead of being filled with doubt and disbelief, you recognise fear to be a useful tool that reminds you that you are about to engage in something requiring your full attention and effort to complete safely. With time, it might take increasing distances, more complex manoeuvres or new combinations to fill you with the same apprehension but that is merely a sign of progression, and it is that feeling of unease that traceurs so often seek out because only then are they sure that they’re working at their limits.