Paul’s aim­ing for a sub-3:00 marathon. It’s hard

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue - BY PAUL TONKINSON Check out Paul and fel­low co­me­dian Rob Deer­ing’s run­ning pod­cast, Run­ning Com­men­tary – avail­able on itunes and Acast. @ RunComPod

I’ve been think­ing about the will, that in­ner mus­cle that we ex­er­cise to a de­gree ev­ery time we pull on our run­ning shoes, that we train when we do any­thing hard and that we test to the limit when we race.

Imag­ine the mo­ment that comes at dif­fer­ent points to ev­ery one of us: maybe half­way through a Parkrun – you’ve set off too fast, can you hold it? It could be 22 miles into a marathon – you felt fine half a mile back but now you’re hav­ing a se­ri­ous wob­ble. Per­haps you’re 80km into a 100km ul­tra (I’m imag­in­ing this one) – its dark, you’ve gone beyond all ra­tio­nal met­rics of fatigue and there’s a pow­er­ful urge to stop.

In all these cases you’re in a bat­tle be­tween two voices. One says, ‘ Dig deep! Keep push­ing! You can find more!’ The other says, ‘Chill out. You’ve done re­ally well. Ease up.’ It’s a mo­ment of two tor­ment­ing truths. This is the race you’ve trained for, but you also have done re­ally well so far. There is al­ways more but you could slow down. I’ve been try­ing to work out which is the good voice and which is the bad. Which one should I lis­ten to?

It’s clear to me that in re­cent years I’ve tended to pay more at­ten­tion to the in­ner chill-out guru. You can give the im­pres­sion you’re try­ing in a race – and in life – but deep down you know you’re not. You set up ex­cuses, lay­ing down get-out clauses that un­der­mine what­ever en­deav­our you’re en­gaged in. To put on my psy­chol­o­gist’s hat for a sec­ond, it’s prob­a­bly linked to the dom­i­nant voices you heard when grow­ing up. Did the en­cour­age­ment come from a lov­ing place or a harsh, cold, judg­men­tal one? If you tend to as­so­ciate striv­ing with a lack of self-worth, then it can seem more at­trac­tive to ease up, as an act of re­bel­lion or even self­p­reser­va­tion. Who hasn’t felt the re­lief at the mo­ment of sur­ren­der amid great strug­gle, the re­al­i­sa­tion that all things will even­tu­ally pass; that it’s all ir­rel­e­vant in the grand scheme of things?

But when does this be­come a po­si­tion of gen­tle de­spair? Be­cause to try, to say that things do mat­ter is to put your­self in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion. This has all been put into sharper fo­cus by my at­tempt this year to crack the three-hour marathon. For the first time I’m do­ing ev­ery­thing I can. I’m lis­ten­ing to the clear voice of sac­ri­fice. So as well as ex­er­cise and run­ning, I’m not booz­ing till after the marathon. This has in­volved re­sist­ing my in­ner booze hound. The best de­scrip­tion I have heard of de­cid­ing not to drink or drink heav­ily on a par­tic­u­lar oc­ca­sion is ‘show­ing em­pa­thy to your fu­ture self’. So I’m run­ning with that for a while. And life feels calmer.

I’ve re­alised also that the in­ner mo­ti­va­tional voice doesn’t have to be tied to child­hood as­so­ci­a­tions of never be­ing good enough; it can, in­stead, be lib­er­at­ing, an op­ti­mistic surge into an un­known fu­ture.

I’ll leave you with a vi­gnette from a club track ses­sion the other week. It was a few weeks into my no-booze pe­riod and I was com­ing to the last 1,200m in­ter­val of a long ses­sion. Tra­di­tion­ally, I fade at the end – they are tough ses­sions and I’m usu­ally nurs­ing a slight hang­over from the week­end. Bet­ter run­ners tend to breeze past me as my form dis­in­te­grates. This night, with 250m to go, I could see a shadow to my right, back­lit by the flood­lights, long strides eat­ing up the dis­tance. I al­most laughed at the sym­bol­ism of it. Here I was, faced with a vis­ual metaphor for my doubt and fear catch­ing up on me. Did I sur­ren­der as usual? Slow down in re­lief? No.

I kicked into the last bend and then I kicked again. I lis­tened to the voice that said, ‘There’s more.’ The shadow re­ceded. For a mo­ment there was more. It felt new; I felt free.

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