Shhhh, do you want to know a secret!

Whilst paying for petrol at the weekend, a man in a white van winds his window down and asks me outright whether “I’d like to buy a TV?” Curious I think it used to be you were offered a set of glasses with your petrol purchase. “No thanks” I mouth. And then he asks what he clearly thinks must be the clincher “It’s cheap”. I shake my head, he drives on, I ruminate on the offer. Why would I buy a TV on a petrol station forecourt, why wouldn’t anyone? Why do I need any form of consumer protection when electrical goods can be so easily available? Too individual for me, yet what can be more individual than running training.

The remarkable thing about running is that it is so individual. A focus so central on what YOU are up to that is separate from others. About what you are achieving/suffering/enduring.

What you think about someone elses training is very unlikely to be the truth. Yet our interpretation of that ‘truth’ is very unlikely to have too much of a positive spin. We seem to have a particularly good ability to focus well on the negative interpretation of what others are up to, often to the detriment of our own self, the detriment of our own training. This is most pronounced when thinking about a return to training when thought processes turn to how well others are running. That their technique and ability is so much better than ours. They run so much smoother than us, they glide up hills, or sprint so much quicker than us. They are better than us, able to glide whilst we plod, hurdle whilst we stumble, and sprint whilst we splutter.

Consequently, we must get better at our running before coming back to running so we don’t stand (run?) out when training alongside these gods of athletic capability. Rather like tidying up before the cleaner comes this completely irrational behaviour governs our ability to believe whether we are ‘ready’ to return to running, whether resumption is possible so we don’t stand out or fall too far behind, or struggle too much up that hill, or puff too hard when we’ve completed the circuit.

Other ‘runners’ don’t do these things. They don’t puff, they breath hard, they don’t stumble they stride, they don’t struggle, they’re sublime. They’re quicker than you, they’re Olympic versus your club runner style, they’re always advanced to your Neanderthal capabilities. You’re chasing them, trying to keep up, enduring the run whilst they enjoy it, creating envy in them for you whilst they stride on making the gap between you and them all the more elastic.

In these circumstances, the reasons for not returning, or believing your own running is not progressing, are extremely powerful. Those around you seem so much better at this pursuit than you. You’re the one whose struggling not these others, these silky smooth pursuers of yet another PB.

So you put off the running, so you can get better at your running before you get back to running with these people.

Really, you sentient being?

We get people into space, have landed spaceships on Mars and asteroids, developed the internet and email, found gravitational waves, and built items of flat pack furniture, but we’re stopped by how we might appear against others who may or may not be ‘better’ runners than us?

Go figure.

The big secret, that great unknown, the holy grail is that us individuals battle our own self-perceived abilities all the time. It’s all personal battles, whether we’re convinced our technique isn’t great, or we’re struggling on hills, puffing that bit harder than we think we should, completing that lap not quite as quick as we thought we should, not narrowing that gap between us and the runner in front as quickly as we thought we should. And the amazing thing is that runner next to you is likely to be thinking exactly the same thing. We think we know where our inabilities are and measure ourselves against others, but the irony is that we are all doing the same things. Yes some of us are quicker than others, but it is much more about our resilience to overcome the challenges when they come up – as they inevitably will – to think less about what we are up to and/or what others or up to, and focus on what we did better than last time, our achievement in being here in the first place.

We need to learn to ignore that other stuff, our running commentary on how much better those others are, and draw in how great we are, just making the effort to be active, extending our training into its next phase, pushing on to the target race.

It’s not possible to score runs whilst you’re sat in the pavilion,

…..and you can’t run whilst in your bed or on the sofa, but from all those positions you will lose out to those ‘other’ runners because they are out there, whilst you’re not.

What training is all about is building the resilience to deal with the tough bits, to appreciate what you are achieving and focus on the next goal, whilst also appreciating that at this level it is all relative progress and participation is in the eye of the beholder. We just have to notice what we have achieved rather than constantly weighing it up against what we think others have achieved, or think what others might be thinking about us.

Now that’s a secret worth knowing.

Get out there, the cleaner can come whether you think the ‘house’ is ready for their visit or not.


About Simon Tanner

Eight time marathon runner, having run Brighton x6 and London x2, finally got a London ballot place after 7 consecutive attempts. I try to write about things I'm going through / have gone through in training to help others attain their running goals, whatever the distance.
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