I’ve just returned from an amazing, invigorating, inspirational run camp. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good get-together with other runners and it was much overdue. It was great to talk to other runners about their races, their training, their experiences – I’ve come away with ideas about how to improve my training, other races to think about racing, and with plenty of inspirational stories ringing through my head. And with two tough speed sessions on Saturday (including my first ever standalone 5k!) and a very slow and muddy and windy off-road long run on Sunday it’s reminded me of how much I love to run.
In my desire and need to become a better cyclist and swimmer by this summer, running has very much come in third place. I’ve got a place in this year’s Boston marathon (and am going!) but will not be racing it. And that’s not me sandbagging – I’m not doing enough running to race it, and I don’t want to give myself the recovery time afterwards. I want to get back to training as soon as I get off the plane in the UK, and so Boston for me will be many many things – a get together with friends and my mother, a celebration of running, a desire to be part of the response to last year’s terrorism – to show that terrorism will not diminish us, or scare us. But it will not be a race, and I’m good with that.
Inevitably, while talking to people at the weekend, we’d talk about races, about times, about PBs, and about goals. Some of the people on the weekend were very fast (Liz Yelling was there, who has a 2:28 and change marathon PB, and Louise Damen who is representing Great Britain with a 2:30 PB) and some were not so fast. And one woman in particular brought up a topic that has been swirling round in my head for the past weeks. She told me of a moment that had occurred when she was working out with other runners where she had felt so much slower than the others that she had burst into tears. The person leading the workout had gently pointed out to her that, while she was slower, she was working at least as hard as the others in her intervals and that all he, as the coach, was interested in was effort. She rallied and her running (and confidence) has gone from strength to strength. In simple terms, she came to believe that she was a runner regardless of how fast she was. And once she had that self-belief in place, she could tackle all sorts of challenges.
I’ve recently had this conversation with Adam who’s started crossfit (I stopped after one session but more on that another time). There was a point where he felt he was the weakest, the slowest, and the oldest person in the “box” (I just can’t deal with that word, but anyway). He asked me whether he was just being an idiot but I said no – he was not. But he was dealing with a tough situation – it can be hard to appreciate your own efforts when you feel they fall so short of what those around you are doing. And of course – coming round to me – you knew I was going to get there – this is something I struggle with a lot. I am working hard, really hard, but am still painfully slow in the pool and on the bike. I feel like I’m surrounded by talented, fast, people, and to nobody’s surprise, I am not one of them. I regularly have to fight my desire to give up. Not because a workout is too hard, but because I think “why bother? Who am I kidding?”. Right now, I would dearly like to see some progress but all I can see is that I’m running slower than I have in a long time. My head knows that this is how it’s going to go – that the progress will come, but it will be slow, and that my running speed will suffer. And my head is okay with it. But my heart struggles. So many well intentioned friends ask me about my training and share their well intentioned views “you should be cycling much further by now”, “you should be cycling must faster by now”, “you should be swimming much further by now”, “you should be swimming much faster by now”. Honestly, the tears often brim behind my eyes. Thank god for my coach, who’s on the receiving end of many a panicky email. Thank god for my other training friends, who know how it feels to be so out of your depth. Your Lululemon bag may exhort you to “do something that scares you” but I tell you – when you’re doing something that scares you it’s an extremely frightening experience.
So here I sit, with legs that are battered from this weekend’s running and a mixed-result long bikeride today. And I am going to tell you why, despite all the above, I am doing something I’m not very good at:
- because being good is relative. To others. Remember when I won my age group in a marathon last year? That was amazing. And I could and did focus on that. But I could also focus on the fact that it was a small race. That there weren’t many in my age group. And I could tell you that the woman who came in just behind me told me that she thought she would have beaten me if she hadn’t been breastfeeding. But that day, she didn’t beat me. This year she probably will beat me. So all you’ve ever got – right up until Olympic level – is where you are on the day, and where the others are relative to you on that day. I’ve said before that I want to stop comparing myself to others, because, apart from anything else, it’s such a pointless exercise. There ARE faster people out there. And I’ve just go to deal with that, and put it one side. And focus on myself.
- And related to that – why does it matter that I’m not very good at it? I’m not making a living from this. This is my hobby. I keep bringing myself back to this. Pushing myself beyond my personal limits is what I like to do – what makes life interesting to me. This is what takes me on journeys, mentally and physically. What leads me to meeting all the people – new friends – I met this weekend. That’s why I do all of this. To experience life to the full.
- And the final reason I can think of why I am doing something I’m not very good at is because I’m a mother. My kids are constantly being made to do stuff they’re not necessarily good at. Academic work they may struggle with, social situations they have never faced before, sports they find difficult or not enjoyable. Little of this is a choice as a child – you just have to get on with it. As you get older, you get to choose more. The subjects you study, the sports you do, and more and more, the social situations you are happy with. And that’s a really good thing. But it can also mean that you get my age – 42 – and you forget a) what it’s really like for your kids and b) just how much you are settled into your comfort zone. Learning something new when you’re older is really hard and often precisely because you’ll find yourself surrounded by people who have been doing it for a long time and / or are very good at it (lord do I wish I had been a swimmer in my teens). But I want to show my kids that you are not “done” at 42 – that my character and interests and limits have not been finalised yet – in the hope that they will always realise that they too have far more options available to them than might sometimes be apparent. Especially if they can get over the part where they’re not very good at it…
So I’m back at it. Back in the game. I do this because I want to do it, and I do it because I love it. The running weekend reminded me of that and for that I am truly grateful.