Born to Run, Malcolm Law and all that has done a lot for popularising running and putting big dreams within the reach of ordinary people. It is certainly true that most people are capable of more than they think they are, if they apply themselves. But, all of us can fall for the temptation of biting off more than we can chew. We can also find ourselves snatching at achievements that need more work in order to be done in style.
Almost anyone can shamble their way around a marathon in six hours. Doing so will probably not make you a good runner. Especially if you end up walking most of the way.
You should be able to maintain at least most of your pre-fatigue poise throughout the events you enter. If you can’t, then maybe you are in the wrong event. This means taking into account the level of training required to be able to run the whole race, or at least the vast majority, at a decent pace. That is what running is.
Don’t enter your event to drag yourself over the line at all costs. All this proves is your tolerance for pain and your lack of respect for your body. You could go out drinking and prove much the same thing.
It’s unfortunate that current trends seem to have inspired a macho/masochistic culture amongst runners. More and more running events have remarkably generous cut off times that seem to facilitate, perhaps even encourage this.
There is also a tendency to just lurch from one event to the next. In these consumerist times we find event days and the collection of medals more ego-boosting and exciting than the often lonely discipline needed to train for them properly.
You can overcome this now by joining the camaraderie of a squad. They will tell you when you are over-racing and keep you inspired and interested during training.
I accept that not everybody wants to be wearing running computer watches and constantly trying to shave off a tiny percent off personal bests. We don’t all want to kill ourselves for a negative split. Fair enough. But, if you want to be a lifelong runner, endurance events require a gradual build up, fantastic technique, and a body that is strong, flexible and mobile. You will likely want some strength and speed in your legs to ensure that your body is still in one piece at the end of the day. You will need progressively more confronting experiences to ensure that your mind can handle the suffering. You will need cross training to give you a stable platform from which to move the rest of your body.
Real achievement takes years of consistent effort. It is this effort that makes it worthwhile and is its own reward. The events are just the cherry on top. Consistency is the real test of endurance and commitment, not a few weeks of training and a day gritting your teeth to collect an injury and a medal.
Being slow is not a problem as long as you are enjoying yourself and running the right race. But don’t short change yourself. Consider the time it requires to train for something and give yourself the luxury of doing it properly. If that means nailing your local 5k fun run then great. You will have become a runner. Build from there.
Learning to run efficiently and fast is the real challenge. Enjoy every step of the way, relish every step, whatever the distance. Before you entertain the thought of wanting to complete an ultra-marathon, action the thought of wanting to be a runner. That way your running stories will always be about things you did recently, and are more or less still capable of doing. They won’t start with “before I wrecked my knees…”.
I coach runners in their 70s still knocking out 80km weeks. They don’t need stories to prove themselves. That’s how you really go the distance.
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