Call me Ishmael…
Actually, no – on second thoughts I’d rather you didn’t. It’d get VERY annoying VERY quickly, and all I wanted was a throwaway Moby Dick reference to kick off the blog post. Because like Captain Ahab in the aforementioned novel, I was obsessed. Taken over. Consumed by the need to vanquish my nemesis.
Except in my case, said nemesis wasn’t a gigantic murderous fishy mammal, but a readout on a tiny LCD screen. I wanted, yearned, to run 5 kilometres in under thirty minutes.
Hmmm… When I see it written there in black and white it seems quite pathetic really. More so when I glance at some of the hundreds of online running forums and see the amount of people who have achieved this, drunk and blindfolded, on their first run, having only the day before undergone pioneering surgery to replace both their legs with kippers. Okay, a slight exaggeration there perhaps, but it’s true that the goal which recently for me has dominated every run was one that many had achieved without actually realising it. Which just made it all the more infuriating that I couldn’t do it.
A few posts back I talked of a great run, in which I came within seconds of cracking the sub-30 5k. My response to this near-miss was along the lines of “what the hell, I enjoyed the run and that’s all that matters”. A noble sentiment, and I wish it could’ve continued in that vein, but that run planted a seed. A seed that whispered to me “you practically nailed it. Practically. Tell you what… just run a teensy bit quicker on your next run and you can cross that particular goal off your list and move on. No problem. Bish bash bosh, a pat on the back and on you go”.
But it wasn’t to be. Every run since then either fell short of the target, or was a fantastic galloping sprint of a run with the drawback of the battery failing in my Garmin. By now I’d already become such a slave to this goal that I couldn’t accept a result that had any sort or caveat to it. I knew that at least one of the Garmin-less runs was under 30 minutes, but without the cold hard statistics in front of me I wouldn’t accept it. I’d built it up to such a momentous goal that in order to accept that I’d finally achieved it I would have had to see it carved in stone and countersigned by the Dalai Lama and Norris McWhirter. The other day before work I had the opportunity to spend half an hour or so on the treadmill, but decided against it because I knew that sod’s law would take effect and I’d end up doing 5 kilometres in under the magic 30 minutes, only to then beat myself up with some imaginary “it doesn’t properly count if it’s on a treadmill” rule.
Maybe it was this combination of blind obsession and snobbery that made me realise how stupid I was being, and how pointless my goal was. I decided it was time to move on.
In an ideal world I’d have just left my Garmin at home, and headed out for a run unfettered by nagging concerns of time or distance. I’d have run for the sake of running, for the joy of running, and returned home exhausted but unburdened by thoughts of pace or any other running term that until recently meant absolutely nothing to me. It’s annoying that a second or two on the wrong side of “00:30:00” could take some of the pleasure out of a run, especially as just a few short months ago any run was a good run compared to the sedentary lifestyle I was breaking out of. I guess it’s a common trap and I’d be shocked if I was the first novice runner to get over-focussed on pace and on goals that, when you think about it, don’t actually mean anything. For now at least, cracking the 30 minute barrier is about as easy as trying to teach a yak to play the accordion, and twice as frustrating. So, as I was saying, the obvious remedy would have been to just leave the Garmin at home, but that’s really not going to happen any time soon. I know it’s a crutch and a distraction to what really matters, but that’s just me. I like the handy stream of facts and figures, and the fact that I can sit and enjoy a post-run coffee while poring over past runs and seeing how things have progressed. I guess when all’s said and done I’m just someone who likes his toys.
Once I realised how much I was getting hung up on ticking this goal off the list, breaking away from it was surprisingly easy. I’ve decided that the answer is to take a step back, slow things down and increase my mileage a little. More importantly, I’m planning on rekindling my sense of adventure; I realised that I’ve been returning to the same (albeit great) route for weeks now simply because I know it’s exactly 5k. Sod that, I’m off exploring.
I was driving to work the other day, planning on doing a familiar route before I started for the day, when I noticed a bit of countryside off to my right. I must have driven past it over a thousand times and from time to time I’ve found myself idly thinking that it’d be a good place to run; a few small fishing lakes surrounded by trails, a copse of trees* here and there, the occasional wicker man. But then the thought disappears as quickly as it arrived and I find myself focussing once more on the important task of negotiating a sharp bend or, more accurately, pretending I’m Knight Rider. But this morning was a little different. It was a cool dry day, I was dressed for the occasion and I’d already built time for a run into my schedule. Before I knew it I’d found somewhere to pull over and was out of my car, breaking into a gentle run as I made my way into the unknown.
I’d like to go on to tell you about the wondrous places I discovered, of how I leapt over babbling streams and tested my wits on treacherous craggy hills. Of how I punched a sheep in the face and declared myself King of the Countryside. None of that happened – it was just a gentle five-ish miles over a pleasant rural route – but that doesn’t matter. What made this run spectacular was the heady sense of freedom and path-less-travelled escapades, reminding me of why I got hooked on running in the first place. By the time I got back to my car, sweating, aching and grinning from ear to ear, I was already planning my next adventure.
Another by-product of my near obsession with a sub-30 5k was the fact that my blogging started to suffer, as my lovable mid-run musings were barged out of the way by, y’know, proper running stuff. I’ve been finding less stuff to write about, and despite all the technical gubbins of late I’m keen to avoid this turning into a “straight” running blog of “Woop woop!! I just aced my PB with a 7.3 split over a 9 litre tempo run and I’m only three quarters of the way through a level four tallafallooly!!!! In your face adversity. Woop woop again!!!!!!!” and so forth. If for no other reason than that I don’t think my exclamation mark key would be able to cope with the strain. No, I think it’s about time I edged back into the familiar waters of non-sequitur rambling and quite-possibly-imagined encounters with gnomes.
By the way, as much as I like to project an imagine of being erudite and sophisticated, I’ve never got past the first three words of the book. So… um… did he, like, catch the whale in end or what?
*Not that you tend to get any other kinds of copse. You don’t often hear people referring to “a copse of kittens” for example.