I admit it: I am a nerd when it comes to my running and cycling stats. I track every outdoor workout and pore over my split times working out where I could do better.
That said, I really wish people didn’t ask me my marathon time. I am happy(ish) being bottom of the pack, because I know that’s where my place is. But when people ask me, I feel like I am being judged, which makes me embarrassed by the timestamp.
One person asked for my time, before adding “it doesn’t really matter, because you still finished it.” What I have discovered that it is generally non-runners who tend to ask the question. They are under the misplaced belief that running is all about the time. Runners know the struggles we all face are struggles we all face. Although other runners sometimes are interested in my times, there is a mutual understanding; they are as happy for me when I nearly got under 1 hr for 10K as I will be when they hit under 3 for their marathon. Yes, I am competing against myself and aiming to get better and faster. But the time is only a tiny part of the story.
I worked for months, had a few injuries (including a scare which saw me head to minor injuries with four weeks to go), watched my diet the closest I ever have, learned how to fit in all my workouts within normal life. During the marathon itself, I started feeling wobbly at mile 16, tanked at 18, and ran/walked the last 6.2 miles with severe cramp in my legs – so severe that when I tried to literally shake it off at mile 19 I nearly fell over, and debated between miles 23 mile 25 about the pro’s and con’s of stopping to stretch. I really wanted to but was terrified that if I did I would collapse and not finish the race. But all that negative stuff is less than half the story.
I had a lot of laughs along the way, a lot of great conversations, encouragements, high-fives, smiles and fun, connections made with strangers I may never see again.
So frankly, to be asked for my marathon time smacks of ignorance of why people run. I think the same goes for asking anyone any statistics about their waistline size. I haven’t measured mine for a year. I didn’t invest much in my measuring tape – it came from Ikea. I dated measurements in pencil on the tape itself, and became discouraged when I seemed to work really hard but only lost a milimetre – or worse gained one! I have intermittently weighed myself when the opportunity arises, and found I am a stone heavier than a few years ago; but I was wafer thin back then, and now I have more muscle from working out. I have toyed with buying a set of scales, but know that this would be unhelpful, unless it also measured the percentage of body fat and muscle, and I’m not willing to spend that much! I know that I would become a slave to the number, constantly checking it.
It is no fun being a slave to either my waistline measurements or distance specific times. Each of us know the specific moments of encouragement we have used to spur us on – for me, this was when I enjoyed my first sugar free coffee in years; or last week, when I actually enjoyed having a crisp free day during the week. Each of us know the discouragements as well. None of this can be reduced to the number on the scales or measuring tape. The goal of losing a mm made me lose out on something far more important: The fun of the journey.
I do have specific time goals for my next half marathon and marathon, but I put them behind the goal of enjoying my running and only use them as a general guide to prove I’m fitter than I was before. This is vital for me because there can be drudgery in every training period, and this can be made worse when you miss a target. Running isn’t fun all the time. To run at a specific pace is harder work than to just run. Getting caught up in times adds pressures. Enjoying the process helps motivate you for the next run. The runs where I’ve experienced some amazing things (like being stuck behind a herd of sheep) are far more valuable than the times and splits.
Tonight I will be running 10 miles homeward. It will be a massive psychological boost to know that I ran home in the cold, probable frost & wind and the last couple miles on dark country roads (don’t worry, i’ll be in grippy shoes on a footpath and have a headlamp and a red for my back). It will be hard work. I will be aiming for a specific time on the run. But I’m not going to think of that number.
Instead, I will use runtastic to record the run but not give me feedback at each mile (as it usually does). I will simply run as best I can at an easy pace, looking for the joy within the journey: the shower at the end of the run; the psychological boost of having gone through it despite my best efforts to get out of it; the madness of running through the cold and frost and in the dark; the blessedness of being able to enjoy my health in such a way.
So next time I run a race, please ask a more imaginative question than “what was your time?” Likewise, never ever ask someone their weight or their waistline. Ask something more interesting, like what being healthy means for them and about their journey, which will be told not in numbers but a life lived to the best of their abilities.