For a long time I suspected it but couldn’t be sure. It seemed the most likely answer but there was still a small chance that it might not be the case. I hoped it wouldn’t be but the evidence seemed pretty conclusive, and yesterday I had it confirmed to me by my participation in the National 6 Stage Road Relays. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, you guessed it; I’m a shit runner.
I like the 6-stage but it doesn’t half throw up some mismatches. After the late withdrawal of one of our club’s top two athletes I was bumped up to leg 2, receiving the metaphorical baton from my club-mate Paul, the kind of runner for whom the word talent was invented, and who possesses the best running style of anyone I know. He’s also quite quick. So quick in fact that I ended up starting my leg in 6th position. In a national competition no less. Now I know how the phrase ‘lamb to the slaughter’ came into existence. Within the first 50 metres I had been overtaken by a couple of runners, and within 50 more I had doubled my position (think about it – that’s not a good thing). The first lap was a procession of more able runners flying past me with ease. Thanks to a conservative first half, I managed to find some strength and pick off one runner near the end, but the results don’t lie. I ended up with -17 next to my name.
Now I know I’m comparing myself to the best in the country, but it is hard not to be disheartened when you see that. When you run against genuinely decent athletes it is easy to lose perspective about the quality of your performance, but I love having the opportunity to run against them.
And talk to them. In the car on the way back to Birmingham were the team manager, his son Jack, also a phenomenally good runner, a guy from another club who has run sub-14 for 5k before, Paul, and me. Spot the odd one out. What struck me most about the conversation was the one thing that good athletes have in common: belief. Yes, they all train hard and have some degree of natural aptitude for running, but the main thing that seems to set good runners apart from bad runners is the conviction that they are going to be the best. All three of them seemed confident about what they could achieve, whilst at the same time being humble and realistic. I suppose it is pretty hard to motivate yourself if you don’t think the training is going to pay off. I was also struck by the way in which they take complete responsibility for their success or failure as an athlete. If they run badly it is their fault. If they run well it is because they trained hard. Simple as that. When Charles Van Commenee started his job at UKA he was reported to have banned all British athletes from making excuses for poor performances. The reason was simple enough; you don’t get better by blaming someone or something else.
On my long run with another club-mate this morning, we contrasted these views with those of some athletes we know whose progress has stalled because of an unwillingness to accept the blame for poor performances. Consider the following phrases: “I’m in great shape but the weather was terrible”, “It was a tough course so I didn’t run well”, “I never run well at this time of year”, “It’s not really my distance”. Identify with this? Shit runner.
I joke of course, and am as guilty of this as anyone else, but it does seem that those who make excuses don’t fare as well as those who are willing to act on their failings in order to improve. So is it as simple as that? Poor runners make excuses and good runners don’t? Probably not but it is worth bearing in mind next time I complain about a performance.
Good runners think they’re bad and bad runners think they’re good. I’m a shit runner so I probably ought to get better.