The title sounds a bit more pretentious than I mean this post to be! I have signed up for the Bristol half-marathon in September. Don’t ask me why or how it happened, but it happened. Those of you who know me a little, know that I am a reasonably strong cyclist, but not a very good runner. Even the adjective ‘average’ sounds like a far-fetched compliment when it comes down to my running.
However, I have found that my ‘training’ so far has given me lots of food for thought. It has made me think why it is that I so desperately want to give up at times, as well as made me challenge how I perceive myself. I guess some of these thoughts reflect experiences not unique to me, but common to some of us, so here they are.
The first thing that has struck me during my runs, is that as soon as I set off, my legs feel tired. It is as if they like to say ‘why are you doing this to us’? Expert runners will most certainly criticise my lack of warm-up and have a physiological explanation, but I have found that it reflects my feeling at the beginning of any enterprise, not just running. Why should I bother, surely it’s easier and less painful to stay where I am?
At first I thought it would help my motivation to promise myself a treat when I get back: a nice meal, or a pint of beer. However, I have found that this doesn’t really help. The thought of a cold beer in the fridge makes turning around even more tempting that it was already.
Instead of trying to find an extrinsic motivation, I have found it much more rewarding to change my mindset to enjoying the experience in itself – or at least to attempt to do so. The Marlborough Downs are a beautiful place to be, especially during the recent spell of warm weather. Slowly but surely I have found that I start to be able to enjoy the being outside and even the exercise itself.
I’ll pause here to make a comparison with our spiritual lives. Saint Augustine of Hippo famously prayed to God that ‘Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee’. Human beings have an intrinsic longing to journey, to be changed and to be challenged, but it is not easy. The best way to do it, though, is not in hope for an extrinsic reward – a place in heaven – but because we are longing for God here and now, and we know intuitively that through our journey we will get closer. This makes that the journey in itself becomes the aim, the reward; the boundaries between the ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ start to fade.
Back to running again. After having overcome my initial reticence, there continue to be moments when I am almost able to convince myself I cannot continue. I am not tired nor sore, but I keep telling myself it’s time to stop. The best way to challenge this and to keep going, I have found, is to ask myself why? Why is it I need to stop? That question usually distracts me enough to refocus, either on a philosophical problem, or indeed the stunning countryside.
Sometimes in life we need to challenge our perception of ourselves. Ok, you think you can’t do this, but why? Or you may think others will have an opinion about you, but are you sure when you look at the evidence? Again, I suspect, questions that are not unique to me.
Finally, there is of course the encouragement of others. People who believe in you and support you in what you do. Equally those whom we ourselves support and encourage, either by example, by what we teach, or merely by our presence. Most things are better done together. Having said that, I’m off for a run with some friends!