I’ve been rather pre-occupied with ‘stuff’ of late, much of which I couldn’t write about, but should have done, because this blog is useful for clarifying my thoughts sometimes. However recently I’ve had the space for some pondering and I can now put them down for your consideration and comment (which I welcome, by the way).
A week ago I arrived at ‘The Academy’ in Barrow, Suffolk, to begin my attempt at ‘The Great Barrow Challenge’, which is 10 marathons in 10 days. This was a deferred entry from last year, due to an Achilles injury, and one year on I was bringing the same injury to the start of the Challenge. Not only that, but two days earlier my body mounted a full-on protest at the prospect of this challenge, when I found that even just a few paces of a gentle jog was agony, and it felt as if my ankle had been stripped of all its cartilage and I was running bone-on-bone. However, having already paid for the event and the camping on site, I wanted to at least come down and see what I could do, even if that was just two miles of walking on day one before I pulled out in pain. My wife and I knew that it was likely I would not finish day one, and that only a minor miracle would see me completing all 10 days of the Challenge.
I’m not afraid of failure, and I wanted to try, but with open eyes and a readiness to quit early if the pain was too severe.
The body is a curious thing, and ‘maranoia‘ is even curiouser. There’s a nice little post-graduate study for someone out there on this phenomenon. How can a person have pain so severe that even turning over in bed is agonisingly slow, despite reduced mileage and an absence of any trauma, and then twenty minutes after the first race starts two days later, the cartilage seems to magically regenerate leaving no ill effects whatsoever. Not only that, but despite all the literature I’d read on Achilles injuries, the pain in my tendon was only a 2/10 on day one, and then seemed to be benefiting from over six hours of pounding, and was getting better day after day.
Adrenaline helps, of course, and I certainly experienced a bit of a rush before the start of the race on Day One. The HQ at the GBC is wonderful, and despite this being a relatively small-scale event, there’s a buzz about the place, with music and flags, a grand finish area, race admin buildings, a warm-up/stretch area, a bar / café and a stage. Coupled with the friendly, family feel of the event team, I instantly felt happy in this place, and wanted Day One to be a good day.
And it was … after starting very gingerly, I was chuffed when I began to realise that yes, I am running relatively pain-free, in a lovely part of the English countryside. I had company, good weather, and a slow, steady pace I could sustain and that I knew would get me to the last checkpoint on time.
I finished, and was chuffed to bits with my medal.
I was even chufftier (yes, it is a word, I just made it up) to be starting Day Two feeling ok and in fact rather full of beans.
By Day Three I was starting to indulge in the thought of perhaps managing to complete all 10 marathons, and half way through Day Four I had committed to this. I was hungry for it – I wanted to ‘graduate’ as one of the really hard-core runners here, with their impressive CV of multi-day marathon achievements. I was ready to play with the big boys.
Day Five was a longer, more challenging route with three miles of hard-packed trail at the end. I had allowed myself to be pulled along by two other females I’d become friends with, who were pushing a bit harder than I would have done if I’d have been on my own. I’d enjoyed my day a great deal, and had energy left, so worked hard to keep up a decent pace across the harder terrain and back towards the village. It was only when we approached the Academy again that I noticed my shin seemed a bit sore.
I’ll omit the next bit because its boring, but the upshot was that the ‘shin thing’ really was a thing, and meant that I quit after three miles on Day Six 6. I was in pain, and I knew this was not one I could ‘run off’, it was a pain that demanded my attention.
As I write we are nearing the end of Day Seven and the injury remains, so instead of pounding through the Suffolk countryside, I’ve stretched, iced and rested, and therefore I’ve had time to ponder.
I’ve wondered about limits, goals and drive. I failed at 10 in 10, and that’s fine. A lot of my friends hate that word, but I am not afraid to fail. If we never fail then the successes mean less and less. Failures for me make the successes sweeter. Of course I’m proud of achieving a personal best of 5 marathons in 5 days, but I’m not going to use this to dress up a failure to do 10 in 10. In a way I’m glad I failed, because it shows me that GBC really is a Challenge. But what I’ve been pondering is what this means.
If you want to find out where your limits are, then you must be prepared to go beyond them. This is what I have done, and I have learned that my limit is therefore 5 marathons in 5 days. Does this therefore mean that in future I should look for events that do not go beyond this limit, because by remaining within my limits, I can be more confident of an enjoyable run and a successful finish?
Or does it mean that actually the drive will come from looking to extend that limit, and achieving a 10 in 10 next year. That 5 in 5 is not actually my limit, because with a bit more commitment, training and experience, a 10 in 10 is possible? A failure now is an invitation to succeed next time?
Its tempting to keep pushing against the limits, to set challenging goals, because this is where one’s drive will come from. This, I think, is especially the case in a society like ours, that seems hell bent upon setting target after target, and a relentless obsession with improvement and progress.
Or do I, in fact, reflect on the joys of running, and focus just on that. These for me include good company along the way, lovely views, peace and solitude, the ‘flow’ of concentrating on nothing else other than putting one foot safely in front of the other, coupled with a better appetite for a good feed in the evening. I don’t need to do 10 in 10 to find that.
However if I’m completely honest, I am a tiny bit scared that if I settle for running that is enjoyable but not challenging, then I’ll lose interest in running altogether. I’ve come close to that in any case recently, with all the ‘stuff’ that’s happened for me earlier this year. Maybe that’s ok, though, and if I quit running because its become boring, then I can enjoy doing circuit training instead, or karate perhaps, or some other activity. I will still be fit and healthy, if I do something else. This does mean shedding my identity as a runner, … but perhaps I’m already part-way towards that now anyway, having lost my identity as a club runner? I’m getting a bit deep now, but I have had a lot of time on my hands the past couple of days!
The attraction of goals and testing my limits is the motivation that they generate in me. I see myself as inherently lazy, and the only reason I run so much is because I have goals, or projects to focus on. I do believe that once I achieve a certain intention I’ll just stop without anything else to set my mind and my body to. So what would motivate me to keep attending a circuits class, for example?
I find goal-setting fun, especially since I don’t mind missing them. Its fun to try to succeed, and every time I cross the start line is itself a little win for my health and well-being anyway.
So will I quit the big challenges and stick within my newly found limit of 5 marathons in 5 days, knowing I’ll probably get to the finish line, will probably have enjoyed myself along the way and will hopefully have avoided injury, or will I continue setting goals I may miss, simply for the motivation that comes with them to make sure I do actually keep doing something?
I shall continue my pondering on that one …