I got asked a few weeks ago to write a piece for my work’s inhouse magazine. Not entirely sure why, but I suspect whoever it was who had this bright idea hadn’t read the blog. Anyway, there was a bit of editing before it finally landed, and, partly because of this and partly because reader demand on this blog is currently outstripping time to write anything especially new (ahem), here’s an edit all for you, gentle reader.
And in the spirit of an workplace magazine, designed to bring out the best in operational efficiencies, controls of a growing business, strategic thinking and investment in people, what better opportunity to write about…running
This, in itself, is a shameless rehearsal for a future career, where I hope to clear up one Christmas with a slim volume entitled ‘Everything I Know About Life, I Learned From Running Stupid Distances At A Decreasing Pace’. Or something slightly snappier. People will buy it in huge quantities, and I’ll be able to use the profits to fund a full time physiotherapist, who will bring me back to race fitness, while I pen my follow-up volume ‘Every Single Thing In My Body Is Completely Knackered Because I Don’t Appear To Be Able To Stop Going Out Running’.
Incidentally, I already have an idea for the front cover, to boost sales. The late, great, Alan Coren was once told by his publisher that the only subjects that ever sold books were Pets, Golf and Nazis, so he called his next volume ‘Golfing For Cats’, with a picture of a swastika on the front cover. Expect something similar in the shops around November.
Anyway, here are some lessons in life from a bloke who runs.
1. You can learn quite a bit from hitting your head on a tree
Well, kind of. I was running with a friend through some woods one day, and I managed to totally brain myself on a tree branch. Using my forehead as a pivot, my whole body swung forward and I landed upon a heap on my back. At which point, my friend turned round, pointed, laughed, and then fell over a tree root. So, watch where you’re going, never look back, and don’t laugh at other people’s misfortunes.
2. It’s hard to look good in lycra
More specifically, it’s hard to look good when you’re at the end of a long hot run, your face is the colour of beetroot, and there’s flies buzzing around your head like you’re PigPen in the Peanuts cartoon. Although, of course, you don’t necessarily realise this – I’ve been rattling along on a run in the past, thinking I’m the living embodiment of Steve Cram in the third lap of the 1980 dream mile, then I go past a shop window, look in the reflection and there’s some arthritic old twit shuffling back from the pub after four pints of Broadside, having forgotten his zimmer frame. Learning to not really care what you look like, a particularly valuable skill when those bloody car drivers point and shout at you, is an essential part of running. And other parts of your life. Two other things, while I’m here. If you’re reading this and you’re one of those gormless car drivers, please, please, please try to think of a better heckle than ‘Run, Forrest, Run’. And if you’re a runner and you’ve decided not to worry about what you look like, just go particularly easy on the bargain shorts that you think you’re going to shrink into. There is a limit to not caring what you look like, and it will be crossed with the wrong size of lycra.
3. Be prepared, be very prepared
Every runner you meet will have stories of little scrapes that they’ve got into by not being well prepared. Personally, I’ve found myself completely lost, in a foreign country with no language skills, a sketchy knowledge of where I last left my family several hours before, and no means of contacting them. I’ve fallen into an ice cold river in the middle of nowhere at 6am on a winter morning, thinking I’d broken my leg, with everyone else in the world safely tucked up in bed. Other runners I know have great stories about being chased by bulls, and getting into fights with pedestrians or car drivers mid-run, being bitten by dogs, or even shot at. And you hear these stories and ask whether the runner took a mobile phone or told anyone where they were going, and of course, the answer was no. So, be prepared, plan for the worst and hope for the best.
4. Every A has a B
Or, think about the consequences. A friend of mine was training for his first marathon and struggling to justify the long runs to his wife, who didn’t really ‘get’ the whole running thing. So he booked a romantic weekend in a hotel, unfortunately not thinking about the need to fit in his scheduled long run. So he woke up really early on the Sunday, and snuck down to the hotel gym, to get a two hour treadmill session in before his wife woke up. He was alone in the gym for the first hour and gasping for a drink, so was delighted to see another gym-goer come in, and asked if he could get a cup of water. This was duly passed to him and my friend made the cardinal error of stopping to drink it. The treadmill was set some way forward from the wall of the gym but he still managed to hit it with some force, ending up with an injury that kept him out of the marathon and a fairly testy discussion with his wife over breakfast.
5. Understand your limits
Most runners will tell you that they keep running because it makes them feel good, but you do need to understand the bits that you can’t do as well. My eldest son ran his first marathon in 2013, and had to go to work the next morning. He had a job at a outdoor sports shop, and was posted on the door that day to greet people as they came in, and tap on the shoulders of the shoplifters as they left. One lady of about 70 left the shop with a jacket over her arm, set off all the alarms, and he asked her politely if she’d like to go back into the shop and pay.
“No, not really”, she said, and walked off across the car park.
So my boy gave chase. Unfortunately, post marathon, ‘chase’ might have been stretching the point. He tried to walk after her with pigeon steps, each one punctuated by the word ‘ow’.
Seizing the moment, the woman looked behind her, saw this bizarre young man looking like he had nails in his shoes, occasional seizures and a bizarre speech impediment, and slowly walked away to freedom.
So, there you are. Might need a bit of padding out but you get the general picture. I’m still searching for the right title for ‘lessons in life from running’. But it might be along the lines of ‘Keep your head up, and don’t forget to breathe’.