Half a runner’s battle is mastering the voices inside his head.
ON A NORMAL DAY, the horde of wacky companions who live in my subconscious is barely noticeable; but when I run, they start talking.
A self-elected committee meets at the beginning of each run to decide which character will start the conversation. Before making their selection, the committee assesses the nature of the run, my current life circumstances, and any problems that I need to solve.
If I go on a long, slow run, a laidback hippie joins me – he draws energy from his surroundings. He points out the quaintness of a church’s floral steeple design, or the delightful shade of green that radiates from a nearby oak tree as the sun dances on its leaves. He even helps me to identify the exact species of dove whose call descends from a flamboyant canvas of overhanging jacarandas.
On hill repeats, the committee nominates an aggressive drill sergeant to accompany me. Towards the end of each interval, he often tells me how useless I am, and that I shouldn’t have taken up running in the first place. At the end of each interval, he uses the same level of aggression to compliment me on my achievement, and screams about how amazing I am. I know his enthusiasm is shortlived, as I make my way back down to the bottom of the hill amid renewed mutterings of inadequacy.
If things are going well at work, at home or on the social front, they send a guy who completely worships me. No matter how difficult the run is, this chap is in awe of how incredible I am. Even during gruelling speed work, he reminds me of my hilarious comment to a co- worker about his reckless combination of a striped shirt with a polka-dot tie. Astonishingly, he even compliments me on the magnificence of my general ledger balancing over the previous month-end. On a really good day, he pays tribute to my majestic running form.
When times are tough, a miserable grouch’s only source of joy is to chastise me for the poor decision-making that landed me in the predicament that drew him out. He reprimands me for having had four drinks after work and then being a little too honest with those who may otherwise have advanced my career. He lambastes me for having complimented a colleague on the rugged handsomeness of her son, before having confirmed the child’s gender. He obsesses over the negative impact of my actions. In fact, when I’m running uphill, he becomes so annoying that I sometimes find myself breaking into a walk, even though I haven’t made a conscious decision to stop running.
Lastly, if there is any problem in my life that needs to be solved, there’s a crafty chap on hand to address it. Often he interrupts my conversation with one of his colleagues. This chap always impresses me with his practical solutions and his ability to see the bigger picture. But for some reason, unless I’m on a run, this guy stays quiet. His other shortcoming is that he never brings me a pen and paper, and refuses to take minutes.
This broad spectrum of companions has a direct line to my legs. Depending on who shows up, my cadence varies wildly. Enthusiasm doesn’t always work: if I start out at a blistering fourminutes-a-kay during the first half of a race, I end up running the second half at a sluggish seven-minutes-a-kay.
When I watch top marathon runners on TV, I can only imagine the voices they have managed to harness. Their faces don’t give anything away, and their legs never seem to falter; but I like to imagine the conversations that would otherwise create quite a commotion, if they didn’t take place only inside their heads.
“This broad spectrum of companions has a direct line to my legs.”
Bruce Du Bourg is anaccountantwho carefullybalances writingandrunning.