After an unhealthy relationship with exercise in her teens, London-based musician and design student Eleanor Dunlop has rediscovered her love of running. Key to her success, she says, is giving herself the permission and freedom to run on her terms. We caught up with Eleanor to get the full lowdown.
Q&A with Eleanor Dunlop
Eleanor – when and how did you discover running?
I started running as a teenager. Initially, it was a way of being healthy. Around 14 or 15, a lot of my friends started to talk about diets. I suddenly became aware of my body in a different way, so I started running and I did initially like it. But then it became almost a point of obsession. It was a stress release that became too tense. It was a healthy coping mechanism that became unhealthy, because I put all this bad energy into it. That’s when I stopped.
Running became part of a wider issue I was having as a teenager, where exercise was about control and especially controlling what you look like. It became very much focused on aesthetics and controlling my weight and body.
What brought you back into running?
The silver lining of lockdown was having time for myself. I thought, ‘how can I get some respite from my day, from being in one place and working all day?’. I started walking. Then I started going for a run, sporadically at first but now much more regularly. I’d also taken up skateboarding, and it wasn’t about control and how I looked – it was about having fun and feeling good. I carried that shift in mentality into my running, which really helped me get back into it. I didn’t feel pressured to have to do a certain number of miles or a certain route. It’s now purely about whether I feel like running and whether it feels good.
Can you remember your first few runs as a teenager?
Because I was just trying it out, I surprised myself. I remember thinking ‘damn, my body can do this’. I’m more of a long-distance runner, but when I first started it was just a little loop near where I lived. I remember doing a sprint at the end and the ‘wow’ feeling that came from that. I felt different in myself. Physically powerful, I guess.
What does running mean to you?
I’d describe my brain as very full a lot of the time. Sometimes, before I go outside, I’ll feel so overwhelmed with stuff I have to do, or thoughts and – especially now – anxieties. I have to trust in my previous experience that once you’ve done this, you will feel better. Once I’ve started and I’m moving, it’s amazing. It’s almost like when you fall asleep, you don’t notice that you’re falling asleep until you wake up. I get into a flow state when I’m running and I don’t realize how good it feels until I’m finished. I feel a sense of clarity.
What do you think about when you’re running?
When I’m thinking about stuff, then it’s not working. My goal is to almost go into a kind of meditation. When I was younger, I would think about things – and I think that’s why it wasn’t as effective. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve become more aware of mindful techniques and I’m able to apply them in physical activities.
How did your relationship with running change in 2020?
Running has become much more central. It’s become a point in my day when everything opens up and I have space. Once of the worst things of working from home is always being there, so just being able to close a physical door and go into a different space for a run is really important.
Do you have a set schedule each week?
No, I really try not to make it regimented because that’s when it can become unhealthy for me. Structure is good, but rules are not good. Sometimes I’ll actually just be on a walk and I’ll do a little run in the middle.
Do ever find it hard to get out there?
Yeah, definitely. Sometimes my head feels too full and I’m like, ‘I can’t deal with this running’. But that’s when I have to remind myself that I will feel better. Getting past that voice in my head has definitely got easier as I’ve got older. Sometimes I trick myself, telling that voice I’ll just do 10 minutes but then staying out for longer once I’m there.
How does running help the rest of your life?
There are the obvious health benefits. I’ve got more stamina for things like skateboarding. And it breaks up my day. I’m a uni student and a musician, so there’s a lot of time at the computer. Running helps to energize you. It gets you through that lethargy when it’s winter and dark at 4pm. It’s a great excuse to be outside.
What would you say to someone new to running?
Be kind to yourself. Don’t approach it with pressure. Running will always give you something different to what it gives someone else. It’s an amazing thing to try, and if you end up liking it – great. But you have to find the way you like running on your own terms. It might become one of the main things on your mind. It might become a hobby. Or it might become just a thing you do to think things through. It’s about giving yourself the space to find that. It’s something that’s free and just for you. It’s not for anyone else.
Cold air, hot breath, I’ve found you again.
And in return, you’ve helped me find myself.
Present, where I was absent.
Connected, where I was apart.
Peace found in the silence of the frost. The silence of my mind.
In the long exhale of night.
You always give me what I need.
A pure pool to dive into whenever I like.
I float free and keep you close.
You carry me forward. I carry myself.
Wow, my body is amazing.
I feel my legs driving. I feel my body powerful.
That’s the feeling I remember to spur me out of the door even when it’s raining.
You and me, it hasn’t always been easy.
But now we’ve found our rhythm.
I don’t know when we’ll meet again. But I know it will be soon.
That run will be dedicated to you.