Wednesday 17th August 2011

It’s good to be put in your place as a runner.

The track we train at on a Tuesday evening is full of quality athletes. National champions, world championships contenders, top cross country athletes, the lot. And how they show us up. It is not uncommon for someone doing exactly the same rep as you to start well after you and finish before you. Stepping subserviently out in to lane two is common practice. Lane three even feels the pounding of my feet when they train in big groups. Just when you think you’re working hard you will get passed by someone who seems to be bouncing effortlessly from left foot to right, making a mockery of your lousy 70 second laps. Occasionally you try to latch on to a group, then regret having deemed yourself worthy of the group’s company as you fall dejectedly off the back of it.

And yet this humiliation to which we regularly subject ourselves does us some good. It is helpful to be reminded that there are people who are much better than you. In my case, this spurs me on and makes me strive for improvement. I know what a good athlete is, and just as importantly I know that I am not one. The moment you start thinking you’re good is the moment you lose the urge to get better.

But how many of the athletes flying effortlessly past me on a Tuesday are thinking exactly the same thing? I suspect quite a few. Of course, they are comparing themselves to a different class of athlete, but probably still need the sense of inadequacy to motivate themselves. A 14 minute 5000m runner will always show me a clean pair of heels on the track, but will no doubt remind himself that there are men in the world who can lap him. A friend of mine always says that a good athlete should be embarrassed by his PBs, that you should feel uncomfortable when someone asks you what you do for 10k. Perhaps my internal dialogue should follow along these lines: Over 15 minutes for 5k? Why do you bother? More than 70 minutes for a half? A good athlete has showered and had breakfast by the time 70 minutes comes around. A 2:44 marathon, and you still show your face in public?

So runners of the world, without so much as a smirk on my face I tell you this: You should be ashamed of your times, you are not as good as you think you are, there are many people better than you and the only way you can change this is to work harder.

Something tells me I won’t be getting hired as a motivational speaker any time soon.

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