When I first started running, it never crossed my mind that I’d run a marathon, let alone one in 2:56 like I did in Paris this past weekend. I never imagined that those first steps of lacing up and heading out into Hyde Park would change the way I think, the way I see things, with precise clarity. Heading out on what would be the start of a journey which of self discovery, following the winding trail of life.
It’s never easy. Remembering a passing comment from a previous marathon “He makes it look so easy”, looks can be deceptive. There are good days and bad days, the days you get up and nail an early morning training session versus the days you question your ability to run 5 kilometres, let alone a marathon. It’s times like these that you learn to persevere through those tough moments, you’ll pull through and everything will be ok.
You are stronger than you believe. It’s completely natural to be afraid of the unknown. What sets us free is confronting our fears. Until the moment you run your first marathon, you never truly believe you’re actually capable. After you’ve run a few, you start to question exactly what you’re capable of. Can you go faster? What happens when you go further? On Sunday I passed a sign at 30 kilometres which read “what the mind wants, the body does”. It comes down to how hungry you are. Take that chance.
Embrace the silence. I enjoy an early morning run. The world is quiet and you get to see the sunrise on a new day. I leave home and by the time I’ve reached the canal I run along, all I can hear is the sound of my own breath, my footfall and the rhythm of my heartbeat. With so much noise in the world, the sound of silence is calming. This is my time.
Stop. There was a moment running through the Namib Desert last year I realised that whilst we live our busy lives, nature continues at its own pace. I ran past a heard of gemsbok who didn’t seem bothered by my appearance on the horizon. We spend our lives rushing around and sometimes miss the beauty that surrounds us. Step back, take a deep breath and appreciate everything around you once in a while.
What you put in you get out. It may sound a bit cliché but it’s true. I love a spring marathon, so typically spend roughly 5 months training through winter. The early starts for training mean getting up before dawn and even finishing before sunrise. You have to be dedicated to better your best. The structured approach to training quickly means that the rest of your time becomes structured too and inevitably you become better organised.
Stop comparing yourself to others. We do it all the time, you reach the start line and while you wait for the klaxon to sound, you have a look around at your peers, trying to judge who's better. An hour or two later you find yourself pleasantly surprised when you pass an athletic looking runner, only to be passed moments later by someone 20 years your senior. Then you remember that this is your race and your own personal struggle. We are all different.
Everything becomes clearer after a run. I stopped listening to music when I run after I went through two iPod Shuffles during a sweaty summer. Perfect time to zone out and let thoughts drift in and out of my head, or at least so I thought. That first summer, I kept hearing the ice cream van jingle as I was heading out in the evening, so that tune stuck with me for a while. Luckily I managed to shake it and anyway, autumn arrived and when the leaves started to fall, the tune faded along with the sunshine. What I hadn't realised during this time is that I would analyse the day's events, put together action plans and file things away neatly in my head. By the time I finished, my head was clear just in time to make dinner and put my feet up for the evening.
It's about the journey, not just the finish line. Running changes you. It doesn't happen overnight and the job never seems to be done, our goals just change. So crossing that finish line is never the end, it's just another milestone, a moment to take stock of where we're at and looking ahead down the path we're taking. It's what we experience along the way which shapes us, not that PB we may be chasing but experiencing a perfect sunrise, the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot, taking up yoga and mastering a headstand.
Chase your dreams. If you're thinking about it, don't wait. Do it. We're so scared of failing that sometimes we don't even try. How will you ever know you won't succeed if you never step outside your comfort zone. Who knows, you may even be good!