My running credentials speak for themselves. Unfortunately. One issue I do not face when running is the burden that elite runners routinely have to carry, that is, the burden of expectation that they will perform well every time out. This worry I am free of. However, this does not mean I am free of running angst. Ooooh no. You must know what I mean unless you are either supremely well endowed with self-belief and/or running talent combined with an unbleamished injury record. For the rest of us mere mortals, it seems running is a mental challenge as much as a physical one. Whether it is a chimp on your shoulder (which makes for a very asymmetrical running technique) or that all too common sense of imposter syndrome we all have our mental demons to battle with. For me, it’s a constant voice in my head. You might hear it too ‘I’m not a real runner, everyone must know I’m not a real runner, those few who don’t know yet will find out soon, then I will be exposed and – ironically – run out of my running club, humiliated by exposure of the truth I can no longer hide…‘ Sound familiar? I hope not, but I suspect for many it will be.
It is it seems, an extremely common affliction. I finally made it back to woodrun today after a summer recess that would put any sinecure holder to shame. It was nice to be back in Ecclesall woods, it definitely had a slightly different pre-autumnal feel to it. It was also a bit like first day back at school after the summer holidays, with a few of us trooping in after a summer absence. Some of us instantly started to get our apologies and excuses in first, out competing one another in respect of our woeful fitness levels/ innate (in)ability etc. Many of us feeling somehow unworthy of the ‘runner’ moniker. Why do we do this? Talk ourselves down? It may or may not be true that we are not at the top of our game, but does it really matter. It’s not how fast we go, it’s that we go at all isn’t it? The thing is, I can recognise this phenomenon in other people. I look at them in disbelief and awe at what they can achieve and see that it isn’t all that helpful or even relevant. Lawks a lordy, it isn’t even true! Of course they are ‘real’ runners. There is no exam, no certification required (although some of us at least should perhaps be certified) how could they not be the real mckoy. Owning the label for myself is another story, I need to keep chanting the mantra – you just have to leave the sofa and put one foot in front of the other, that’s it. However slow I am going, I’m still lapping the alternative version of me that woud have stayed on the sofa…
It’s partly ,my fear of what ‘other people’ must think. I know I’m not exactly poetry in motion out running, but I am at least giving it a go. In my head I recognised that in most situations the mysterious ‘other people’, whose judgement we, ok, well me, I am so in fear of, really aren’t judging at all, they don’t care what we/I do. Firstly, I am not that important to merit being the centre of attention, most people wont even notice. Secondly, even if people did steal a glance, it doesnt follow they are that interetsed about what anyone else is doing – people are thinking about their own goals at that point. I’ve often thought at the start line for a race, or even a parkrun, you could turn up naked (apart from your trainers) and people would be far too focused on their own paranoia and performance to notice. Obviously, this statement doesn’t apply if you happened to be wearing a more technical brand of running shoes then they were, in which case they’d be wanting to know all about the tread and drop and other stuff to do with running shoes that ‘proper’ runners are interested in, and fair enough. Ostentatiously showy running shoes (and/or active wear gear) are always going to operate as attention magnets, so if you wear them, then you have to concede a degree of contributory negligence on your part if you then attract the odd, covetous, sideways glance…. Posing in active wear will inevitably turn heads. (Please, click on the video link, it just tickled me – how can you not want to sing along to the catchy line of ‘smoking on the streets in my active wear‘?, though I am a bit too easily entertained I know, it’s been pointed out to me before).
Even so, when it comes to myself, I still feel that it’s somehow different. In my case I’m not so much talking myself down, just being realistic, managing expectations blah de blah. No point in taking unnecessary risks out there… Some smug person has produced a poster showing the limitations of this stance, ‘path to mediocrity..’ etc. Well, I concede that might be true, but it is also annoying to have this pointed out to you in motivational poster format. I prefer a bit of cynicism in my motivational phrases and posters to be honest. So let’s balance it with the whisky advice one shall we? That I can work with. I’m also persuaded by that ubiquitous quote ‘whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right‘. Seems we all have the innate gift of personal prophecy. It’s certainly the case if you don’t give things a whirl then you will never find out what you are capable of, just have to trust that it won’t be too terminal a lesson in your absolute limitations I suppose…
So, what’s brought all this on? Well, it’s The Dirty Double coming into view all over again. This is a two-day Lakeland running festival. I booked in ages ago, near as dammit a year ago to be precise. With a whole 11 months stretching ahead before I’d be required to run anywhere up and down hills in torrential rain, I’d fondly imagined that by the time the event came around, I’d have lost 30% of my body weight (by losing body fat, not through amputating extraneous limbs), done weekly hill-reps and generally metamorphosed from relatively inanimate grub to speedy running and flying beetle or whatever. Are there beetles that run? Cockroaches I suppose, but they don’t go through metamorphosis properly though do they? That’s a rhetorical question by the way as I’ve just looked them up, they go through incomplete metamorphosis apparently, just so as you know… Actually, this analogy doesn’t entirely work does it? As with much in life, I am finding myself really wishing I hadn’t gone down this particular route. My entomological knowledge is not all that detailed, and, apart from insects I can only think of amphibians that undergo metamorphosis, and, much as I genuinely like frogs and toads, I can’t really stretch that to regarding them as perfect exemplars of aspirational running form. When I was thinking of undergoing metamorphosis it was by way of transformation from earth-bound hobbit yomper to graceful, leaping fell runner. Ironically, and coincidentally ,the possibility that I have metamorphosed into a toad seems a rather more apt analogy for my current state of physical readiness in respect of running round lake land trails in November, but it really wasn’t what I was aiming for when I signed up last November….
Oh for goodness sake, stop hassling me! Surely you get my point! No?
Well, it’s basically this: I entered into this demanding trail race (Helvellyn Trail 15km Race + Ullswater Trail 14km Race on two consecutive days) basically through fear of missing out and the lure of having a boat trip out to the start of one of the races. I overlooked the ‘running’, ‘inclement weather’ and ‘steep off road gradient’ elements of the events. Also the ‘race on two consecutive days’ aspect. I suppose I thought by then I’d have trained, or at least hung out with better runners than me so my own form and endurance would improve by osmosis, and that basically ‘it’ll be fine on the day(s)‘. Now though, it’s just a few weeks away, and starting to feel a bit real. Fellow Smilies are posting about it, and it’s slowly dawning on me that this may not be a completely blaggable event. There is/was also the option of doing the same routes as a challenge (you get more time to finish), or doing a 10k on each day instead. Those other options are looking ever more appealing. It hasn’t helped all that much that hobbit buddy responded with ‘yikes’ when she realised I’d entered the longer race classes instead of the two 10k. Oh here we go again with the peer pressure. I don’t mind being slow going round, but I do want to finish before the cut off point so I don’t get left out there on the mountain long after all the marshals have packed up and gone home, and have to swim back to the hostel because I’ve missed the last boat ride home to boot! Maybe I should swap…
However, I do expect this weekend away to meet the criteria of generating a few anecdotes, although possibly ones that are only hilarious and enjoyable in retrospect. This brings me to the central point of this post (yes there was one), which is about understanding (and implementing) The Fun Scale.
The Fun Scale apparently originated in the climbing community, but as with many sports, there is a cross over to running. Type One Fun is basically ‘fun at the time’. You are consciously having a good time whilst doing it. Personally, I’d put the Round Sheffield Run into this category. Then there is Type Two Fun. This is the sort of fun which is only really fun in retrospect. You do not get any inherent joy out of it at the time, but when you look back on it and laugh, it does seem in fact to have been incredibly joyful. You forget how hideous it was at the time, and enter the same event again next year. Personally, I think I’d put Percy Pud into this category. Freezing cold, icy rain, road surface battering my arthritic feet and seeing returning runners speeding towards me on their way home before I was even half way out did not make this an unremittingly joyous occasion for me. However, when you finish and get given a vegetarian Christmas Pudding at the end, you come to believe it was actually fun. Other runners oozing endorphins reinforce this sensation, so each runner colludes with the others until there is a shared collective belief that the Percy Pud is brilliant fun. Which it is, apart from when you are actually running the darned thing.
According to The Fun Scale for climbers at any rate, the third type of fun is basically no fun at all. ‘Shoot me if I try to do it again’ sort of thing. I appreciate what they are getting at here, but I think there’s a category missing. I’d put this ‘truly, never again’ as Type Four Run myself, and insert what I consider to be the missing third category here instead. This is the sort of fun me and my erstwhile flat mate used to experience after attending an angst ridden studenty party in our youth. (Yes, I was young once). You must know the kind of thing. Agonising social interactions at often dingy and dodgy locations, for long nights of excruciating ‘fun partying’, where you only went in the first place out of peer pressure, didn’t believe you’d come out alive, and spent the entire time wishing you at least knew where you were so you had a sporting chance of getting home. (Actually, I have unconsciously described a fair number of my running experiences out on the hills in that statement). Anyway, these were unrelentingly hideous occasions,and for that, you might reasonably assume they would be in the category of ‘never again’ but not so. Whatever their inherent and known horrors, they would still score as Newly Calibrated Fun Scale Three for me because, when debriefing after the event we would have to concur that whilst we were ‘not at all sure I enjoyed myself’ we were nevertheless absolutely confident ‘ but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘. Thus, whilst knowing to repeat the experience would be hateful and possibly dangerous, you are compelled to return to it again and again, like a moth to a flame (until I can think of a better analogy anyway, analogies are not going well today I know).
I think the Dirty Double, may well be lining up as Newly Calibrated Category Three Fun Scale score. It has all the elements there. Bit far, bit wet, bit hilly, fear of missing out. Lure of the landscape. How will it end? Well, we are all going to have to just wait and see..
I suppose I could try training a bit in advance, or is that taking it all a bit far? I could start posing in my active wear out and about a bit more I suppose. That would be a start… or is it really and truly a case that running this double is all in the mind. A virtual run if you will. High risk strategy to take that as a literal truth, but it might yet be worth a go. I suppose the bottom line with my running journey is ‘must try harder’ not as in undertaking masochistice punishing workouts that would end up with me hating running for ever, but in not giving up too soon. Hmm, we shall see.