3 years ago today I did my first ‘proper’ endurance challenge, the Scotland Coast to Coast, which feels like a lifetime ago. But good to remind myself that I really haven’t been doing this running thing for very long, before that race I’d run 3 half marathons, a couple of 10k’s, a little dabble in adventure racing and that was pretty much it. But I loved the idea of taking on a challenge and where better to do it than the Scottish Highlands? I roped my little brother into joining me and that was the beginning of both of our journeys into the wonderful world of endurance sport. Since then I’ve run 9 marathons (with no. 10 in November), 2 ultra marathons and 2 half ironman’s. Plus of course multiple shorter races and lots of training adventures.
I seem to have become somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde runner, a split personality with 2 conflicting sides trying to dominate the choice of training and racing. 2 different approaches to running that have little in common with each other beyond putting one foot in front of the other.
The Hyde runner
This is my natural side; the trail runner, happiest when out on the trails breathing in the fresh air and basking in the glory of the British countryside. A place where pacing, PB’s and 400m reps are irrelevant, where the wildlife you see is as important as the kilometres you cover. It feels like home as you watch the seasons pass over a runners year. The smell of rapeseed in bright yellow fields during the first hot days of the year, the crunch of your feet on grass frozen solid on early January mornings, spotting deer in the dawn light as they munch on the first spring shoots.
I like the escapism of trail running, of getting away from the busyness of modern life and finding some peace. It becomes a form of meditation, albeit one where you puff and pant your way up a hill. I don’t run anywhere particularly tough or high very often but it’s enough of an adventure to make me feel alive.
Have you done a race recently? Have you seen the litter fairy that follows behind the runners picking up the litter and making the course look like no runner has been there? A fabulous person, making the difference, ensuring the good name of our sport continues. Except kids I’ve got some bad news, and you might want to sit down for this, the litter fairy does not exist.
Yet just like Christmas where we all keep up the charade that Father Christmas is real, at races we seem to all carry on not noticing that someone has just thrown a gel wrapper on the ground or has decided to wait until a mile past the water station to throw away their bottle. We carry on in the belief that the litter fairy will pick it up and so our conscience can rest easy. Besides even if the litter fairy doesn’t exist I’m sure these big road races can use some of the massive fee they charge us to pay a team of litter pickers right? Don’t think so.
At the Milton Keynes marathon I saw a guy about 50m in front of me very gently bend over a lay a bottle and gel wrapper on some grass, right in the middle of a beautiful park on the edges of a lake, nowhere near a marshal or an aid station. At that moment I decided the next person I saw dropping litter who was within shouting range was going to get called out on it. So it was that I found myself shouting at a woman at around mile 15 who’d decided that it was ok to dispose of the bottle she no longer wanted by throwing it on some grass which was actually someone’s front garden (incidentally if you ever need to pick yourself up mid race I thoroughly recommend a bit of a rant). Her excuse was that she thought it was near enough a marshal that they’d collect it and besides ‘she’d seen people doing it at other road races so must be fine, but maybe those were main roads and that was the difference’.
Passion. Life is a lot blander without it. Be it work or hobby I’m a big believer that you should do things you’re passionate about. It doesn’t always need to be full on ‘I want to change the world’ passion, but work in particular can be a very dull place if you have no passion at all for the company or the work that you do. Every day becomes an exercise in just getting through rather than feeling excited about what you might achieve.
The same applies to any hobby or sport that you do and perhaps none more so than running. If you don’t have some passion for running and it’s simply something you ‘should’ do then the chances of you doing it regularly and for more than a few months is slim.
Who inspires you to run/cycle/have an adventure? Who makes you think that maybe you can take on that big audacious challenge? Who inspires you to get out there and put the hard miles in when you really don’t want to?
All of us have role models or heroes that we look up to for a whole variety of reasons. When I was a teenager playing rugby I wanted to be just like Neil Back, quiet and unassuming but absolutely committed to his role in the team. Someone who just got on with his job without making a big deal about it and was so effective at what he did.
Fast forward a few years (ok, more than a few) and I’m now a dad to 3 crazy little people and I’m very conscious about the type of role models they see. I’m passionate about showing them that a healthy lifestyle is both normal and important. That exercise should be part of our daily lives and not because we need to stay thin but because it’s fun and makes us happy. That’s why I love involving them in the running that both the lady of the manor and I do. We also show them that a balanced diet means eating good food that we make ourselves but doesn’t mean it can’t include cake and chocolate.