Saturday, 16 June 2012
What I talk about when I steal from Murakami...
... and talk about running.
I did a running race the other day, well I say race. I don’t know that I would actually call it that, perhaps more of a mass participation event.
I didn’t really have a competitive desire to be involved in racing again so soon, I think some folks are naturally incredibly competitive, while others, such as myself, actually get a little worn out with competing day in and day out for 17 years.
However, I had coaxed my girlfriend into doing the Bristol 10k as a way of having a goal to set herself to train up for, and naturally, I had in turn been coaxed into taking part myself.
It seemed pretty easy really, the coaxing was perhaps the hardest part of the whole thing, but as a recently retired full time athlete you would think it should be.
But, what struck me while doing the run, and trying to talk my girlfriend through it, was that I am not normal and neither was anyone who I have worked alongside throughout most of my adult life.
By about the 6km mark, Georgie was beginning to struggle, and I was trying to get her to lift the pace to make sure she ran a time that she would be proud of.
For her it was a decent achievement to be doing the 10k with little notice and less preparation, regardless, I knew she was fit enough to do it, and do it respectably. So I pushed her a little, increasing the pace gradually up each drag, and all the time steadily lifting the pace toward the final kilometre when I knew adrenaline and crowds would get her through.
And yet she suffered. Of course she suffered, but what the athlete inside of me just couldn’t comprehend was how little she seemed to be suffering. She could still talk, she hadn’t thrown up, she was composed, and all that was really hurting her was a burning in her lungs and the thudding of the pavement.
I couldn’t understand it: it seemed to me that she wasn’t pushing herself at all.
I thought to the days that I had pushed myself on a bike, not only in races but up and down hillsides in the middle of nowhere, with no-one watching, and no-one timing me, and there being no other goal than a virtually abstract bunch of numbers and figures that I had set for myself in my head, with the sole purpose being to improve myself enough that I could then push myself further the next time.
I thought about those moments I’d been stationery in a garage staring at a sweat drenched heart rate monitor counting down the final twenty seconds of an effort that made my heart beat as many times in a minute as it possibly could; burning, dying, fighting, aching…
I was frustrated because I thought, ‘if you don’t push yourself now, you’ll finish and be disappointed. It has to be now, now, now.’ The thing was, when we run together casually all that pushing is never, ever an issue to me at all, I listen when I am asked to slow, we talk - I enjoy the experience, but the fact that there was a finish line there changed me.
I am no runner by any stretch, but that part of me that had been encouraged so much throughout my life as a cyclist was awoken. As soon as the finish line was in my mind, for some strange reason I had been prepared to push myself to the limit of my physical abilities to cross it in as little time as possible.
The difference between my girlfriend and me though at that stage suddenly seemed two-fold. As a normal, happily balanced human being, she had never had the need, nor desire, to physically push herself to her limits so- as far as she was concerned- she was trying hard as hard as she could. Also as a normal, happily balanced human being, she knew that the finish line wasn’t the only thing in the universe, and that life would go on if she was beaten by the group of strangers I had randomly picked out on the start line and said “right, we just have to beat, him, him, her and him.”
And there it was, the difference between athletes and others perhaps. The fact that you just push so far for so long, that hurting yourself in ways that others couldn’t imagine becomes such routine that when you aren’t doing it, anything else feels like you aren’t trying.