I had a really enjoyable hill session yesterday (and yes, I’m as surprised as you are that such a thing is possible). I’m halfway through writing a post specifically about the joy and pain of hill training, but for now I’m just going to smugly waffle on about how great yesterday’s run was.
And I deserve a little smugness; all of us plodders do.
Running never came easy to me, and it took a long time and several gallons of sweat and tears before I finally felt comfortable calling myself a middle-of-the-pack runner (and even then, it’s somewhere near the back of the middle). Since I finally reached the point where I could call myself a runner without making little inverted commas in the air with my fingers, many of my friends have taken up running. Whether they caught the bug and still do it today or just enjoyed a brief dalliance with it, the thing that I noticed with depressing regularity was that many of them made it look so bloody easy. I should have been happy, overjoyed even, that my friends and colleagues were sharing my passion. We should have started our own club (“The Running Chums”?). But instead, all I felt was a gnawing sense of envy as they shared their progress and I saw that, right from the word go, they were running faster and further than I could. What made it more offensive was the casual humility, with a 40 minute 10k accompanied by comments like “Second run done. Getting a bit easier now, lol”. I hated myself for feeling like that, and to make things worse there was an uncomfortable flipside that reared its head whenever I heard about a friend running slower than me or struggling to increase their distance. Although I offered them encouragement and praise (and sincerely meant it), there was a little part of me that revelled in their situation, thinking “Ha! I’m slightly better than you. Stay down”. I think the German term for this is Schadenfreude which translates as “Jay is being a total arse and needs to stop being so self-absorbed and just get over himself”.
You may have noticed that everything I’ve just said in the last paragraph is in the past tense, and that’s because, happily, I’m not that person any more. I’ve long since come to terms with the simple fact that some people are just naturally better at stuff, and that it all balances out in the end. I was watching someone on a treadmill the other day1 and paying particular attention to the way their feet kissed the surface of the machine like a flower petal being blown across a pond. And then I went on it after they’d finished2 and my gait was exactly the same as theirs, except substitute “flower petal” with “bowling ball”, and “pond” with “bathtub full of custard”. Oh, and switch “blown across” with “dropped from a stepladder into”. But it didn’t matter, because I know that I’ve come a long way and I’ve fought hard for every ounce of runningness (real word) I possess. And on top of that, if I’m slow and awkward now, it just means that I’ve got much more margin for improvement than a naturally gifted runner. For example, elite runners have to spend an entire season following painstakingly specific training plans in the hope of nibbling a second or two from their PB, whereas someone like me has a good chance of knocking minutes from my time just by pushing a little bit harder and not eating quite so many profiteroles on the morning of the race.
I’ve really gone off on a tangent here. This was honestly just supposed to be a quick post about a nice run. Sorry.
Long story short then: Hill sprints. Things looked promising from the start, when I noticed that my heart rate was hovering around 135 during the warm-up, at a pace of 9 min/mile (when I first started basing a lot of my training on heart rate, a pace of a minute or two slower than that would have seen my HR at around 145). When I tackled the hills themselves I really felt like I was powering up them, and I put that down to the core work I’ve been doing along with the weekly hill sessions. Everything just seemed to slot into place; one of those rare runs where your legs spin quietly beneath you and say “where to, boss?”
I felt like a runner, not just a pretender.
The joy I feel when running doesn’t stem from the fact that I’ve hit some arbitrary target or won a shiny medal3. It comes from the knowledge of how far I’ve come as a person since I first laced up my running shoes, and the life lessons I’ve learned along the way. I’ve just read that last sentence back to myself, and it made me do a little bit of sick into my mouth. Sorry, but it’s true (the sentimental part, not the bit about the sick).
I guess the point I’m clumsily trying to make in this post is this: achievement earned is far sweeter than achievement that just falls into your lap.
1Just casually. Not through a powerful telephoto lens or anything weird. 2Jay’s lessons in gym etiquette #87: Always wait until they’ve finished. Getting onto a treadmill while someone else is still using it is a recipe for awkwardness. 3Okay, so it does a bit. You should NEVER underestimate the power and allure of a shiny medal.