There is a moment, you’ll know when you reach it, a moment when the iron fist grasping your lungs releases and the pinch in your side fades, that moment when the weight of your feet hitting the tarmac lifts and you suddenly fly along the pavement. That is the sweet spot of running.
We beginners at running all grasp onto the hope that maybe on this run, on this day, it will happen and we’ll have pushed through long enough to get to the point where running stops hurting and becomes almost like a meditation. That hope drives us on and in the meantime we get a little fitter. Countless friends who run, wise internet-types and motivational posters attest to the fact that everyone with enough perseverance will reach this place, however, despite my efforts was still very much in the grit your teeth and power through phase.
For me the promise of “it will get better” is about as useful as when people say you’ll-just-know-when-you-meet-the-one and go-with-your-gut. I can promise you now that I’ve never just-known anything in my life and my gut is pre-occupied with what I’m going to have for lunch. I am what you’d happily refer to as an outdoorsy person, I enjoy a variety of sports, fresh air and a good challenge, however living in the great city of London has limited my options for pushing my body and getting outdoors. Despite this I had never really been a runner or considered it as a gateway to the outdoors as I spent most of my time rock climbing or on a bike, however, I quickly realised that I would have to embrace it as a way to free my adventurous soul from the chasms of the office job and to maintain my fitness without spending the other half of my salary which wasn’t going on rent.
I became a reluctant runner but this quickly escalated and within no time I was spending my hours youtubing’ trail running videos and ultra marathon blogs; My internet searches were much loftier than my actual running ability and try as I might I still saw going for a run as a bit of an uncomfortable chore and I found more and more excuses to not put my trainers on. I’m sure there are countless people who get to this stage, when the effort and mental strength to stick at it is chipping away but the desire and passion is still there.
So while I waited for that reassuring light at the end of the tunnel (which I assume is somewhere on the fifth lap of Clapham Common) to happen I’ve developed a strategy to pass the time. Distraction. The oldest trick in the book, used to great effect by such people as Kiera Knightly feinting in Pirates of the Caribbean and Vizzini from the Princess Bride’s classic “what in the world can that be”.
My first distraction technique was to download the new album of my favourite singer and to strictly, and I mean strictly, limit listening time to when I was running. Not stretching for a run, not in the shower afterwards, only when I was physically running. This worked like a charm in the short term but it wasn’t long before I was singing along word for word and the distraction was lost. I could have continued this method, widening my musical repertoire but I needed something more drastic.
This came in the form of signing up to complete a Tough Mudder course. Perfect! I would be so distracted by not being the slowest member of my team that I would be inspired to put in some training runs, and on the day, I would be adequately distracted by the fear of what obstacle lay ahead that I wouldn’t even realise I was in fact running (obstacles turned out to include two electric shocks, an icy plunge and wading through mud up to my neck). Summer in the city offers lots of opportunities for runners looking for distractions; games in the park, running to get an ice cream, jogging to work. My final attempt at distraction came in the form of an opportunity to captain the softball team for the organisation I worked for.
Having not played softball since I was 9 years old this probably wasn’t the wisest example of a distraction, but the pressure not to look like an incompetent fool took me to both sprinting and batting practice. It’s fair to say I can best motivate myself through a mixture of distraction and leaping headlong into something. The distractions paid off and I could feel an improvement to my running and fitness levels.
We begin to run for the fitness, we begin to run for the fresh air and the sense of independence, we run to catch up with friends and we run to let our adventurous souls loose for a brief time in the midst of a 9-5 city life. With enough perseverance and grit the running becomes easier and enjoyable but in the meantime we can all, quick look, what’s that over there…..