It’s the London Marathon this weekend and I’m so jealous of all the lucky people who are in and running. It’s normally such a special race, but this year it’s even more special – given that we haven’t seen this race being run for two years.
There is just something so magical about seeing all of those people pouring over the start line to complete something pretty incredible. The fact that you can have an Olympic gold medalist running, and then also someone dressed as a carrot in the same race, is what sport is all about.
I have entered the ballot to get in a couple of times and not got in. One day I will be on that start line!
All runners, without exception, we have a dialogue
That runs as we do. Sometimes angry, sometimes funny
And sometimes just downright weird, reminding us
Of our own little oddities, our mental defects, as it were.
I get mad. Like really mad, turning over old events
Like tiny rocks that burn the fingertips. These thoughts
Are better left alone, but I love the burn, the hurt.
Lately, I have tried to change the pattern,
Think of things that happened in my day,
Creating stories from the objects on the floor and in the trees.
The teddy bear, tangled in the spindly branches of
The gooseberry bush, looking old and tired of this life,
His fur all tattered, did he run away? Or was he thrown?
Or was he dropped by accident? Missed so dearly by
A little boy, comforted with useless words.
And then there’s cups from Burger King discarded on
The pavement like a shiny tile. There is no Burger King
In this crappy little town, so just how far it’s traveled to
Reach my pounding feet, is known by God alone.
And that woman on her phone, who’s she talking to?
Unaware of me, I guess that it’s a lovers’ tiff,
He forgot to bring the milk and bread last night
And now she’s pissed; she wants him out, or else.
I wonder what the other runners think, when they bound past me?
Have they made another story for the crumpled mask,
The Kit-Kat wrapper on the floor, or the smiling man
In the Screw Fix uniform? I hope they have,
And I hope they’ve made a story just for me…
There is a famous book by Murakami called ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’, and although I’ve not read it I have a good idea how it must go. And that’s because I run a lot and I reflect on life and make up stories in my head as I go along. If you are a long distance runner, you have many hours to fill and so this constant talking to yourself is important for your sanity.
When I first started ultra running, I wasn’t sure if I was the only person who did this until I was running my first hundred miler and I had to pull out at 54 miles.
I had been running at the same speed as a guy who I didn’t know for almost the entire race and he decided to pull out at the same time, so his girlfriend offered to give me a lift back to the finish to get my bag. We hadn’t spoken much during the race, so the car ride was the first time we got to know each other.
He asked me what my name was and when I said ‘Rachel’, he practically yelped with delight. He said he had been making up stories about the people he had been running alongside, giving them names and jobs etc. He had decided that my name was ‘Rachel’ and he was so pleased with himself for getting that right.
I thought this was pretty cool, and it showed me that I’m not the only one making stories up about where a Burger King cup might have come from…
My bones ache, I am so tired. And I didn’t even achieve my goal. I wanted to run 100 miles and yet again I only made it to 100km.
I say only, but this was on the Jurassic coastline and the terrain and the weather were awful. If you have ever visited that part of the world, you will know just how steep some of those hills are.
Still, that doesn’t take away the disappointment when you have literally put every last bit of energy into getting somewhere and you don’t make it. Failure is a part of being human, but it also makes us feel pretty crappy.
I hope that if anyone reading this has failed at anything recently, then you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep on trying.
I am exhausted, right now. I literally feel like I want to cry because everything hurts and the serotonin levels in my brain are completely out of whack. I tried so hard that I was hallucinating and I don’t know if I can put my body through that kind of abuse again. This might be a sign that I’m getting just a little bit too old. Perhaps I should just pour my energy into something a bit more sedate like writing?
That fiery joy will burn all night, and for a part
Of long days yet to come. If I could sleep
I’d dance through to the main event,
Forgetting that sweet pain that stings
On the eve of a big day.
I’m running a long race tomorrow and the nerves are starting to set in. Not in a bad way, but in a way that makes me feel a little on edge; it’s like some primal part of my brain knows that something big is on the horizon.
I don’t know if you are the nervous type, but as a child I used to vomit when I got nervous. It was excruciating to want to do something really well but to struggle to do it because I would get myself into such a state. It wouldn’t matter what I was doing: exams, swim meets, Christmas; I would always end up making myself ill.
I’ve gotten better at controlling my nerves as I’ve gotten older, but I still feel that familiar twist in my stomach on the night before a race. I know it’s going to hurt, but I also know that I have nothing to fear because I know that I’m enough no matter what happens, and I never knew that to be true when I was a kid.
If you’re feeling anxious about anything, just know that you are enough too.
I just finished my third out of four essays which means that I am almost there! I am almost finished! And I am sure that most people have reached this point in something that has felt like a slog, the moment when you know it’s almost over. And the strangest thing happens. You realise that you’re going to miss it.
I’ve had this feeling over and over and I remember is most acutely from swimming the Channel. There is this feeling when you reach French waters and you know that you’re going to make it; you suddenly want to keep going. You have struggled for twelve hours, swimming through cold and dark and shipping lanes and shoals of jellyfish and you thought that you wanted nothing more than to end it.
I think that sometimes we’re addicted to pain and we just want to put our bodies and minds through hell. It makes you feel alive to feel pain and discomfort and many of us are sometimes really frightened that we aren’t living life.
I have this feeling that I’m going to end up crying when I press send on that final essay. And then I’ll probably start searching for something else to torture myself with. Because that’s the way I am.
Even when it feels like you’ll never quite get there
Even if you never do get there
You’ll learn so much from the fall from grace
The errors you made
And the memories you’ll make
As you run through life.
So, I like to run. I’m not a very good runner, but I do love to see how far I can go. And the reason I’ve not written anything these last few days is because I was attempting a 100 mile run.
I haven’t done one in ages and I only put in a month’s training so my chances weren’t great, but I stood on the starting line and I gave it a go.
I got to 80 miles and I just ran out of steam and had to give up. I can make loads of excuses, but the truth of the matter is that I just hadn’t put the work in.
However, that doesn’t take the sting out of failing. I set out to run 100 miles and I only ran 80 and that really hurts. There is shame in having to drop out at a check point and I’ve felt crap all day.
But as I was driving home this afternoon, this Coldplay song came on and the first lines just really resonated with me. It reminded me that failure is a part of the human experience.
Every human has to fail at things and we can learn so much from the fails. My body is stronger for the run and I need to be proud for the distance I did do. I mean, who can say that they can run 80 miles? That’s a pretty cool achievement in itself.
So, my advice today would be to embrace those fails. I have a tonne of great memories that I’ll take from that run. I don’t need a medal to tell me that I did something impressive. And it’s put a fire in my belly to go again and get it done.
I’m running 100 miles next weekend and it’s something that I’ve done to myself several times before. And the question that I get asked the most is why do it to yourself?
I’m a big fan of the pain cave and so I’ve found myself running 100 milers and swimming the English Channel on multiple occasions. I have spent time while doing these wondering what on earth it was that made me sign up. What has made up to 300 people all stand on the start line with me?
There must be something that is enticing to these people. I met one person who was on their 197th hundred mile run so it’s not like these crazy people are doing it to see if they can complete the distance.
I’m writing this because I recently watched a film on YouTube that touched on the reason why and it struck a chord with me. The guy on the film said that doing these events takes us to a dark place, and it is only when we are in this dark place that we learn about our true selves.
He said that we can learn more about ourselves in a twenty four hour event than we can in years of normal life, and I found that so true. I can go through such a journey that it can make me feel euphoric and that is quite addictive for people like me.
It’s the lows (and the highs) that I feel during runs and swims that inspire me to write and to create and that can only be a beautiful thing.
I urge you to have a go at really pushing yourself at some point so that you can really see what kind of person you are. It might just be a 5k, but push yourself to do it and really embrace the pain and the discomfort. You (probably) won’t regret it.
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