It’s nearly four weeks since I ran the London Marathon, we’re in the week of the Crouch End 10k and I’ve been for one run. It’s been an interesting time as the cricket season has begun (for me at least – others at Crouch End CC began on the London Marathon weekend) and I’ve never felt less like running than I have in the last three and a bit weeks.
This is because my legs, particularly my left leg have taken much longer to recover from the London exertions than I ever expected, or have experienced before. Somehow I knew I’d pushed myself hard in that race because I knew there were many people who had backed me (to the tune of in excess of £1000 including Gift Aid for the Place2Be), that I was representing Synergy Running Club, and my own ego wouldn’t allow me to let up.
I also missed the relief that a totter around in the sea brings upon collecting your stuff at Brighton though that has in previous years almost left me stranded a short distance from the shore as my legs seize up and my unshod feet protest and cramp at the stony ground. On these occasions, I’m left, posed like some strange Anthony Gormley sculpture.
More Achy of the South, than Angel of the North.
That relief cannot be underestimated, and I suspect enabled me to recover much quicker in previous years, than the 2013 episode where I have had to endure regular muscle pain, early hours waking due to the discomfort, and a really disconcerting cramping whilst fielding. It’s the early cricket experience that has brought home how much the Marathon took out of me this time.
I’m not a world beater at this beautiful game by any stretch of the imagination, but my ‘contribution’ in the field rests on my mobility whilst fielding and running between the wickets, and the old ‘using my experience’ to get me into better positions when that mobility lets me down – as it increasingly seems to as this vessel I call my body begins to almost imperceptibly slow down.
My batting is characterised by stoicism, and determination rather than free flowing run scoring, but I can usually perform some form of job to get a team (usually at some point in a collapse) back from the brink.
However, my mobility has been seriously affected for the first two weeks of my 20th season at Crouch End CC and I’ve found myself doing what I have cursed many for over those 20 years for, just stopping chasing the ball because I can’t quite get there. It’s improving, but slower than this winter runner would like.
However, I did learn a lot from the London Marathon odyssey which I can see will stand me in good stead for my upcoming cricketing exploits. Indeed, I’m trying to write here and now for both a cricket and a running audience because I do think that there are remarkable parallels in the thought processes an individual goes through when indulging in both sports.
This stems from the fact that both are very much what I think of as ‘internal dialogue sports’. Whilst running over long distances we tend to retreat into ourselves. Training ourselves to not to listen to the internal dialogue that for at least 95 per cent of the time is desperately seeking ways to get us to stop, to cease the running because we are damaging ourselves. When we learn to ignore this we enter the zone and realise how easy it is to run and that’s when we really revel in the feeling it gives us as the oxytocin and other natural highs course through our bodies. Trouble is this can only happen for relatively short periods until we’re brought crashing back down by the new topic the internal dialogue has focused on – that funny new niggle, stitch, unexpected tiredness, why won’t my Camelbak fit properly. All crazy when looked at in the harsh light of day, but in the middle of a long distance run perfectly plausible reasons that can upset your rhythm and bring you out of the zone.
Cricket is amazingly similar. There are three basic dimensions to the game – fielding, bowling, and batting. Which are interspersed by more social elements. I won’t go into the specifics of each of these elements because cricketers know about them already and I suspect others don’t want to know anyway. What I will focus on is how there seem, to me, remarkable parallels between seemingly opposite sporting endeavours.
Despite cricket being a team sport played against another team, it is actually a relatively solitary pursuit (like long distance running) that usually breaks down into battles between two individuals (less like long distance running) – the batsman and the bowler, and the batsman and the fielder when the ball has been hit – but is also very much about the internal dialogue of the individuals within those battles.
Batting is very much like long distance running. Technique and form are critical for success, but so is how you deal with your internal dialogue. In the 20 years playing for Crouch End CC, I’ve lost count of the number of batsmen who have thought themselves out because they’ve ‘lost concentration’ and their technique and form has for that one shot gone awry and that’s the end of it, you’re out and you’ll have to wait till next week for your next go in a competitive match. It is also like long distance running because more often than not such lapses in ‘concentration’ usually coincide with you being in the zone – scoring runs freely and that ‘seeing it like a beach ball occasions’ (though I have to say I’ve been got out by a few beach balls in my time too) – as the internal dialogue takes over to distract you in some way.
This is the key difference in that whilst batting the internal dialogue distracts, rather than persuades. It’s a terrible feeling to be out and it’s not something you want to experience, whereas for long distance runners it’s the offer that you’ll feel much better if you stop that is usually what’s being articulated as the body’s mechanism to protect you. It’s here where I struggle to understand what the internal dialogue whilst batting is seeking to achieve. Ultimately for the majority of occasions it is not seeking to remove you from damage, or the risk of it. It just seems to get in the way of you enjoying yourself – the ‘feel’ of the ball coming off the middle of the bat is immense and seeing the ball move with such little effort for runs really is addictive. Similarly when as a long distance runner you experience the relative little effort to just run that is something to enjoy and remember.
Fielding is more than just chasing after a 5 ½ ounce red ball round a large patch of grass. Catches, and those big steepling ones particularly, are the times when the internal dialogue really comes into play. This is when time to think is a bad thing because that’s the space that the dialogue seeks to occupy. Running loads of messages through you about not dropping it, whether the ball is swirling in the air or not, how much it’s going to hurt if you drop it (catches caught very rarely hurt, no matter how hard the ball is hit, catches dropped are much more likely to hurt – metaphorically and literally), and how you need to keep your eye on it until it’s in your hands. This mirrors those times when running when you seem to have become hypnotised by the internal dialogue and it’s the only input you’re getting about your running pursuit which usually is not the most helpful at all.
Bowling is a powerful realm for the internal dialogue as you wonder where to put the ball to prevent the batsman scoring runs and ideally to get them out, but again you can think too much about this especially as the pursuit of run prevention and wicket gain seems to move away from you as a batsman gets their eye in or takes a particular shine to your kind of ball delivery service. In cricketing terms this situation is often known as buffet bowling – the ‘help yourself’ scenario where you might as well put a pinny and high heels on to serve up the next ball. A scenario that we’d all love as a batsman, but dread as a bowler.
The running parallel? The time in a race when you’re passed by someone you overtook earlier and you seek to speed up to stay with them to find there is nothing there and the internal voice says ‘there I told you so, nothing left, it’s backwards for you now’. It’s particularly galling when that runner is dressed as a cow in the final straight of the Crouch End 10k and you can’t respond. You have no response other than trotting up to the line and accepting your lot – as another ball (cow) disappears to the boundary (finish line).
I’ve no idea who that’s happened to…
So this Sunday is the 10k Fun Run. I’ll be there a full five years since I first ran as a target for me to continuing jogging to lose the ‘daddy weight’ after the birth of my second daughter.
All in the pursuit of cricketing fitness.
Look what it has led to?
More 10ks, a half marathon, and four marathons with the last one meaning I wasn’t fit for cricket.
Is that the ultimate irony?
Or, is it the look on my wife’s face when she realised after six months of us being together she was with someone that played the same sport that had blighted her childhood summers – her father played cricket for thirty years.
I’m still not sure, but there’s plenty more to think through on that one. Though 10 years of marriage this year and two beautiful kids would suggest that it’s not that ironic.