My day job involves working freelance for various ad agencies. And frankly, most of the people I work with are couch potatoes, who find my running obsession pretty funny. (You’re 44 and you still run marathons? Weirdo!)
But the main thing that strikes me most about conversations with non-runners is their total lack of understanding about distances. Which at first amused me, when I spotted it, but which now strikes me as being a fairly profound psychological ‘heads up’ for all of us who get our kicks out of running.
In conversation last week, with a fairly young guy at work who plays football and goes to the gym three times a week, I admitted that my favourite training run is a 6 mile there-and-back course that I do a couple of times a week, and which I mix in with a bit of speedwork, cycling, swimming and longer runs at the weekend.
When I told him that I’d be doing 12 miles today as part of my preparation for an off-road event called Hellrunner, he was totally bewildered, as 12 miles is almost half-marathon distance, and obviously, in his mind, seemed like a ludicrous distance to try and run.
So I tried to explain, and the best I could do was to say: “Look, 6 miles is just 45 minutes of very moderate exercise. You probably do that 3 or 4 times a week at the gym! What’s the big deal?”
He took my point, and that was the end of the conversation. And while I’m sure he forgot the conversation instantly, I was left thinking about it for quite a while. I’d never put it in those terms before. And when push comes to shove, my favourite 6 mile course along the sea wall is just 45 minutes of pretty low key exercise.
Yet when I returned to running 7 years ago, the ability to run 6 miles seemed like an impossible ambition. And I think that’s because I measured the distance in miles, rather than minutes of exercise. But now that that kind of distance has become commonplace for me, I simply regard it as a 45 minute run and don’t pay it too much heed. Even the 12 miles I ran today didn’t faze me too much beforehand, as I no longer think in terms of ‘oh my God, that’s virtually a half marathon!’
Instead, I just had to pick a part of my Saturday when disappearing for an hour and a half or so wasn’t going to cause too much chaos on the domestic front. In fact, while a few years ago, a 12 mile run would have been followed by a couple of hours in a darkened room making low, moaning noises, all I did today was get home and mow the lawn before taking a quick shower, prior to heading out for a carb-rich Chinese takeaway.
Now, you may be thinking that I’m boasting about what a wonderful runner I am these days. But I’m really not. You may think that I’ve simply, and quite naturally, improved my fitness over the last 7 years.
Well, you’d be right to think that, but I still think you’d be missing the point. What I think has mainly happened is that I’ve overcome my fear of scary-sounding distances, simply because I’ve been there, done that, and made the t-shirt sweaty so often now.
And the natural corollary of that is to make me think that most of the problems I had with long distances in the early days were all in the mind. 7 years ago, 12 miles sounded like an immensely long way. Today it just sounds like a chunk of time out of my day. Yes I’m fitter and more experienced. But I honestly believe that what I’ve really learned to do is to think in terms of time spent rather than miles covered. And that makes every run, and every race, so much easier.
Any thoughts from anyone out there? I’d love to hear your opinions on this – even if you just want to tell me I’m talking rubbish…