I don’t like talking in the first person on this website, which is a little ironic given the first word of this article. The use of the word ‘I’ is something to avoid as much as is humanely possible. Hence all uses of the word ‘I’ in this article grate on me more than the time last Sunday where I ran my thumb across the cheese grater and took off a nice big chunk of skin… still it made for an interesting colour of cheese that lunchtime.
My view is that people don’t want to hear about what I necessarily think. I view Ultra168 more in a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) role of offering a public service to people, to offer up opinions and points of view from around the ultra world and cast it into the running ocean for debate. Debate is the backbone of our society and no truer or relevant a time is it to be discussing this, than in the current climate our world finds itself in. But let’s keep politics and religion out of this one.
However, I’ve decided to break from that tradition just this once. We British are known for our self-depreciation and self-mockery, our slightly dark sense of humour, where taking the piss is part of our national psyche. We rarely take ourselves seriously and the day I do take myself seriously, is the day I bludgeon my head voluntarily against a wall, all while repeating “I must not become a Facebook runner, I must not become a Facebook runner”… and so on…
The Hardest Training of All
You see, the hardest training of all is not the intervals session on a Tuesday lunchtime. Nor is it the stairs ‘death training’ on a Thursday where that deep, metallic, watery sick-like taste enters your mouth and you’re within an inch of bringing up your breakfast.
No, the hardest training of all is not training at all. It’s being injured. An injured runner is unbearable to live with. I pity the wives, husbands and partners of injured runners. My wife is a God-send, a rock and a pillar to my unbearable non-running state right now. Even worse is an injured runner in the midst of a purple patch, who then has to suddenly stop running because of their own stupidity.
As runners, we’re so used to getting our daily fix of euphoria, that when we have to stop, it’s like someone has locked us in a room a la Trainspotting to go cold turkey. This does raise issues in itself, namely about the addition of running and the impact it has on people. But that’s another article within itself. Being properly injured i.e. having to take six weeks off (through a fractured bone in my knee just to add), gives you a different perspective on things.
Here’s three things I’m learning…
1. From outdoor to indoor
Trail and ultra runners love the outdoors, that’s the very core of what we’re talking about here. We love setting foot in God’s country and experiencing the wonders that it offers. From stunning landscapes, to encounters with deadly snakes. We get a kick out of it, yet when that’s taken away from us we have to go to a place that very few of us enjoy – The gym.
I’ll be the first to admit, I hate those metal tin boxes. I view them as a form of cult, a cesspit of idiots that voluntarily pay to pose in front of a mirror to boost alter egos and self-indulgence. I have however, in the last 4 weeks, become a gym douchebag. Typically when I’m injured for an extended period of time, I refrain from doing anything and resign myself to a period of misery in getting my fitness back up to whence it came from a few months prior. There’s a slight perversion in coming from nothing to something.
I did however this time, decide to voluntarily pay to become a douchebag – and secretly, I’ve quite enjoyed it. Admittedly, I haven’t hit the weights (although many moons ago, there was a time I did and was a complete douchebag), but instead have joined the ‘sitting down’ lazy sports of indoor biking and rowing. While initially mocking the lycra brigade that sits in one place inside a metal box for hours on end, I’ve found that rowing in particular is making me incredibly fit. All I need now are some deck shoes and a stripey blazer to quaff champagne and eat strawberries on the veranda with my best mates Rupert and Henry.
Initially my pathetically weak runners arms struggled to get to grips with the rigours of indoor rowing, but after a few weeks I’m considering a national championship entry (I’m being ironic here). And I’ve found, that really, it doesn’t matter what the sport is, we’re mostly still in it for our exercise high. The kick we get out of flogging ourselves to release those all important endorphins and make us more bearable to our forgiving partners.
While I thought those who frequented the gym were self-absorbed douchebags, I learned that really they’re just like us runners in that we’re looking for that extra challenge to push us, which leads onto my second lesson.
2. The need to suffer
A term I’ve starting thinking about more and more recently, as I bust my balls doing hard hill climbs on the indoor bike, or busting my ass so hard on the rower my quads shake and I can barely stand, is the need to suffer.
We suffer in ultras, and at the time, it’s the line between DNF’ing or not. When I started my cross-training I found it hard to suffer. Afterall, I didn’t really have a clue as to what type of training I should be doing. Initially I sat on a bike, whacked it on a gear that felt hard but OK and cycled. After 15 minutes I wanted to slit my wrists through sheer boredom. The same went for the rowing machine.
Then I started to play some ‘suffering games’. I decided to row for an hour and to keep a certain pace. Fifty minutes into the row, my arms felt like they wanted to drop off and I was breathing out of my ass. But here I was again, suffering and really enjoying it. In some sense, the sheer boredom and physicality of the session became the suffering challenge.
The same went for the bike. I found the hardest gear I could and did four 10 minute hard hill climbs with very little recovery in between. Suddenly, I felt like I was suffering again, as if I were having flashbacks to pushing as hard as I could up Kedumba Pass in the Blue Mountains. I was back at home in suffer-land. It’s a rather strange perversion to desire, but I’d argue that suffering is good. Suffering makes you feel alive, provides you with some perspective and worth. We all need to suffer in some manner to appreciate and understand what it’s really like to live. I pity those who wrap their lives in cotton wool, oblivious to the real world. Which leads onto the final point…
3. Massive appreciation
After just under five weeks of no running, I laid in bed last night thinking about my next run. I pondered for some minutes as to how truly lucky we are as runners to be able to do this. There are times when you’re training so hard that you start to resent your running. It becomes a chore and is monotonous. I always try to remind myself how lucky I am to be able to place one foot in front of another and experience the wonders of our beautiful countryside.
When you’re injured, no more does that become relevant and foremost in your mind. I’ve recently decided to get a run of Ultra168 running singlets made up (blatant plug!) and was trying to decide what image to have on the shirts.
I was reminded of one of my favourite runs in the Blue Mountains, here in Australia. A run that is basically down, up, down up. It reminded of what running is all about. The freedom of running as fast as you possibly dare downhill, watching the moment run by you, coupled with the ‘hurt’ of slogging my fat ass up a hill as quickly as I could. It was perfect, and as I get ready to embark on my first run back on Sunday this weekend, I pictured the steps I would take across that sacred land in the Jamieson Valley – a perfect image to don on the singlets.
My point is, be in the moment and appreciate what’s around you. Don’t live for the weekend or think about the past. Life is happening right now in front of us, and while I can’t wait to get back on the trails, the sense of waiting and living what’s happening right now makes that wait even more worthwhile.
So there you have it. A slightly warped article, even by my own standards. If you’ve made it this far, I applaud you. You obviously think along the same lines as me. We so lucky to do what we do. Keep it in the moment.