Planet Run­ner

Half a run­ner’s bat­tle is mas­ter­ing the voices in­side his head.

Runner's World South Africa - - Contents - BY BRUCE DU BOURG

Head Strong

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.

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