The well, as some runners call it, is the metaphorical mass of water from which your extra energy reserves are drawn during a race or session. It is completely fictitious of course, but refers to a very real phenomenon: the ability (or sometimes lack thereof) to push yourself to the limit.
I certainly pushed myself to the limit two weeks ago in trying to win a half marathon race in my home town. I just about managed it, by a whopping seven seconds, but used a huge amount of mental reserve in doing so. I went to the well, in other words. Last week, as nothing more than a fun day out, I took Mark’s place in the Ashby 20 mile road race whilst he was back home in South Africa. Shame to let the race number go to waste, after all. I had a reasonable run, ignoring the fast starters and working my way through the field from 15th after a mile to 5th after 20 in a completely solo effort. Despite being in fairly good shape I just didn’t feel like I could push myself hard during the race. The well, depleted the previous week, had not been replenished and offered me nothing when I tried to go to it in the last few miles. The incentive of a bit more prize money and of just finishing the damn thing sooner wasn’t enough to spur me on to run faster when it started to hurt. When the well is empty you accept pain rather than defy it. You let it beat you rather than beating it. You just don’t run as well.
This makes sense, though. Looking at it objectively I am glad that the human body has evolved to have such safety mechanisms. You can’t push your body to the limit every day, every session and every race. Yes, you would get very fit but you would also put yourself at risk of injury. The well is shallow for a reason. Tomorrow afternoon I am racing at the Midland 12 Stage Road Relays. I’ve been pouring water in the well all week. Hopefully I can draw some out this time.