9.08.2014

The discordant twanging of hamstrings

They say that distance running is 90% mental. The other 10% is in your head.

They are a bunch of liars.

Distance running is in fact 89% mental. 8.4% is in your head. The remaining 2.6% is all down to strategically placed globs of vaseline and round plasters over your nipples.

Trust me.


I'm running my third marathon in two weeks time. It's been about eighteen months since my last one and I've had to walk for stretches on my previous two. With a bit of luck and a (hurricane strength) following wind I may get close to breaking four hours.

I won't be first. I won't be last. But I most certainly will get there un-chafed.

Even if the percentages are a bit out there's no doubt that most of the battle is up top. Running long distances means keeping your legs turning over for hours at a time. Getting your legs from the point where twenty minutes of light jogging turns them into a two day exploration of lactic acid pain to a point where you can run for three hours and still function is relatively simple. Getting your brain to the point where it stops sending out whatsthepointjustgiveup messages takes longer.

I've employed all kinds of tricks over the last few weeks. I've alternated between music and non-music runs. I read somewhere about people who battle on race days because they are suddenly forced to run without music to distract their brains. I think I'm ok either way now although the timely intervention of Marathon by Rush got me through one of my give up moments last weekend if I'm honest. I've tried mixing up routes, incorporating hills, deliberately going slowly, deliberately going too fast...the list goes on. My latest trick has been to plan my route so that I have to pass close to my house – the ultimate mental test for anyone prone to giverupperitis. I ran just over 33km on Sunday (20 miles and change in old money) and made a point of running within a decent sand-wedge of home at both the 15km and 25km mark just so I could try and shout down the voices in my head who kept very politely asking “what the fuck are you doing?”.

For a long time I kept thinking I would get to a point where running for several hours would become easy. Truth is it never does. Rarely do I start running with my legs feeling great and it can often take half an hour or more before I settle into it. Other than the normal 735 niggles that affect my body on any given day I'm generally ok up to about 25km at which point my hips start to feel like they are trying to detach themselves from my body. Every kilometre after that is mind over matter.

Writing (for me at least) throws up many similar whatsthepointjustgiveup thoughts. It rarely feels easy and is mostly a battle of will and commitment. It takes hours of time and dedication to improve and is a solitary, lonely pursuit.

Perhaps the most important characteristic that running and writing share is that both tend to be reflective in their glory. When I look back over the miles I've logged and the races I've completed I feel proud that I got off my arse. When I look back over what I've written and the stories I've completed I feel proud that I...stayed on my arse.

Like an arse-shaped yin and yang thing.


Whatever the science I hope I get to do both for a very long time. Coz, let's face it, if after a mere couple of thousand kilometres and tens of thousands of words I'm able to write lines of poetic prose such as arse-shaped yin and yang the possibilities are endless.

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