About 'The Determined Runner' ...
About me, innit ;) . The build up to my first race win in Porthcawl (such a long time ago!). An attempt to put into words the whyfors and reasoning behind it all. An early work.
14. The Determined Runner
All it takes are a few items of clothing and a pair of trainers to open the door to all manner of wonderful, life-changing scenarios. On top of this, it is so easy to meet like-minded individuals who could become life long friends. Even apart from the health benefits, running can have an immense and positive affect in all manner of ways on a person's lifelong journey.
Here we have a young, lean man in his early twenties. A man with more energy that he knows what to do with, literally bursting at the seams at times. What better way to dissipate some of this potentially destructive liveliness than to take up a sport? It worked on so many levels, providing some stability both physically and mentally. It might not be a sport for all, but it was ideal for this one, excitable loner.
The long weekend run was something he really looked forward to. A marathon attempt was to be made so it was essential his body could handle the stress of so many miles ran at one time. With this in mind a run of over 20 miles would be undertaken on some weekends, enough to take him on a sight seeing tour. By this time running was so effortless he literally covered such a distance as if a tourist, taking in all the sights and sounds a traveller welcomes; it was, by far, the best way to travel. The race time he achieved on the day was not that important to him as he didn't have sufficient knowledge to gauge his performance. Had he known, he would have become aware of rubbing shoulders with some pretty classy club runners. For a long while he had held the pace, only to slow in the latter stages, though still finishing in a decent time of 3 hours 10 mins.
Running had quickly progressed from a way to lose weight to something else entirely. Although still very much a solitary person, who enjoyed his own company, regular competition had brought him in to contact with many highly competitive runners. Some of this competitive edge had rubbed off on him. Instead of the focus being one of weight loss it quickly became an interest in running for its own sake. Possessing an analytical mind, it wasn't long before he had acquired a great deal of knowledge with regard to everything necessary for a person to improve their performance. For this he had needed information. Copious numbers of books and magazines littered his home as a result, with training schedules being regularly poured over.
How is it some athletes become winners? It appears certain qualities have to come together in the one package. One above all the rest is self belief. Without it you are beaten before you have set one foot in front of the other. Did this particular runner have such a belief? Yes, he did. He figured he could be as good as anyone of a similar build at whatever he choose to do. He questioned why another human being should be any better than himself in anything at all come to that? With devotion and effort a person could become incredibly good at some discipline or other in a short space of time - it was obvious. With this in mind he set out a program that would take him to a few levels beyond where he was at present.
Until this point only a few races had been entered, including the full marathon above. Not really knowing if he was a decent runner or not as he ran for just enjoyment in the main. Many miles were still being run on a weekly basis. He loved to run. One of the biggest assets was the fact he had quite low body fat owing to a strict vegan diet. Unbeknown to him all the pieces of the puzzle had arranged themselves of their own volition. All that had been missing were the technicalities, but even these were now in place - he had a schedule worked out.
It had become all consuming - all he could think of - the absolute main focus of his life at this time. Girlfriend? Yes, he had one, but she knew - as did he - that such a relationship wasn't as high on the agenda as this one and only goal - which was to win a race.
Where had this drive come from? What had started out as simply a way to keep trim was now such a passion it was all he could think of, with his whole life built around the eventuality of being the first over the line.
What is the main attraction of running? For some it is the camaraderie - the new friends, whereas for others it is more fitness orientated, or one of health concerns, but for some there is a raging and primitive desire to win. All of these have one thing in common - a planned goal. For our runner to win became all consuming. It was all he could think of day and night. It was a passion, whereby his mind was totally focused on the job at hand. Such keenness was liberating in a way as life's problems fell by the wayside. This runner was never one for 'life' as such anyway, finding most of it either boring or mundane or downright troublesome.
Strapping on a pair of trainers was as if preparing for war. No longer were they simply something to protect his feet; no, they were now tools of his trade. Wear points were noted - weight was important. Each pair had their own peculiarities, weakness and strengths. As time went by he had quite an arsenal at his beck and call, with 4-5 pairs on the go at times.
Every run was another necessary step needed to be taken - and all meticulously planned. Hard - easy being the preferred method, with hard training being carried out one day with recovery the next. Times became so important. What used to be a gentle run would now be timed in a number of ways - split times and overall times to name but a few. All of these results where being added to a log book to be analysed to the nth degree. Slowly but surely he was becoming stronger and fitter. Races took on a whole new meaning. Regular participation meant he became aware of rivals. Everything was going according to plan as scalps were taken each time. He was slowly making a name for himself, though still pretty oblivious of such talk, as he rarely made any friends at this stage - he just loved to run and compete.
The improvements in his performance were not spectacular at first, even so each race left a mark, an added strength. It was only by racing against others would he push himself to new extremes, thereby conditioning his body for long periods of high intensity running. Our young runner was still pretty oblivious as to how quickly he was improving, but there were obvious signs of great improvement - his log book didn't lie. Top fifty finishes were long gone to be replaced by top 10 finishes more often than not. It was inevitable that everything would come together eventually.
By now he was quite a few years older than from when he first donned a pair of trainers. It had taken a long time to harden his body to the rigours of long distance running. Even so, the rapid change from a decent runner to a fast runner hadn't taken that long - six months or so. Six minute mile efforts were now approaching five min mile efforts at times. Little did he know that his training was to result in a pace not many could live with and one that would satisfy his hunger for an outright win - or did he? As I mentioned our budding athlete's mind was very analytical, with everything written down in detail. It was only a matter of time, he reasoned, before he would achieve his ambitions.
It was a beautiful day with no wind to speak of and the sun shone brightly. Perfect weather for an organised event. Just a few miles from home a race was to take place, with part of the course sweeping the coast line. The distance to be covered was around 5 miles. Our young competitor had entered the race, looking forward to taking part. By now he had a good idea of local runner's capabilities and no-one in the line-out bothered him too much - bear in mind there were many club athletes in attendance, but he had seen them elsewhere. There were plenty he hadn't seen before though, but by now aggression had been thrown into the mix so he wasn't the least bit rankled by their presence. It was evidently time to stamp his authority on proceedings.
Taking his place on the start line he awaited the call with a measured and calculated mind. 'Bang', and they were off. With his stop watch triggered it was time to concentrate on the job at hand. As always, some athletes would attempt to run beyond their true pace for a while before falling back and this race was no different. After a mile or so, packs were beginning to form and right there in amongst the leading pack was our young man. Strength of purpose, strength of both body and mind along with a strong self belief, induced him to take up the lead. There were still at least three miles to go, but this wasn't bothersome as he could tell from the breathing all around him that nearly all would not be able to handle an increase in pace for long. He was right and the pack thinned out. Only a few were left at the front.
There were a considerable number of sight seers watching proceedings. Still, their antics hardly hardly caught the attention of the front few runners as each was totally committed to running as fast as they possibly could, thereby all attention was on their rivals and on their own condition.
This was the day when all the effort would indeed pay off. Mile after mile was gobbled up and at a rate of knots many athletes will never experience, but our front runner wasn't certain of victory. Although reluctant to look back it was apparent by the clapping of the crowds another athlete was close behind. Taking up front running could well prove to have been his undoing as it is sometimes easier to run from behind. Still, he was in no mood to succumb to doubt. The end of the race was rapidly approaching.
The race had started at a caravan park and would end there too. This was a huge park and as this was the holiday season there were hundreds of people lining the narrow roads. Arms were waving, encouragement was loudly forthcoming. It was everything you could hope for in a race and our man was still in the lead - but only just!
Close behind on his heels was a bit of a dark horse in so much as his face wasn't known to the leader. Had he known would it have changed anything? Nope. You are judged on your own ability on the day of the race. This ability isn't just physical. A runner can lose a race just by being mentally browbeaten by another. This was not the case on this day though. Even if the pedigree of this runner was apparent not a lot would have changed. Maybe the front running would have been reconsidered, but not a lot else. Track running was this chasing man's forte - a seasoned miler - he could shift in other words and no-doubt thinking his kick was enough to stake his claim he put in a final surge.
Even though the noise of the supporting crowd was considerable it wasn't enough to blank out the slap of trainers. By now our front runner was running as if his life depended on it. Adrenalin and testosterone flooded his veins, leading him to consider this was now a life or death situation. As the threatening footfalls became closer a primal instinct kicked in and with an involuntary, guttural shout, energy surged through his body to propel him forward with unmatched, new found speed. There was no way on earth he would would lose this race today. Flying through the tape with unprecedented joy he took first place. His all consuming goal achieved. Such memories would live with him for the rest of his life. A perfect day to run a perfect race. It had all come to fruition and boy had it been worth it. HE HAD WON!
This now accomplished runner went on to win other, similar events and with a faster pace too, but none provided the same satisfaction as this first success. It left an indelible memory, so strong he would replay it over and over again. In a way it spoilt his further successes as they all seemed to take on an air of deja vu - he had been there before and literally got the t-shirt. After all to have achieved one highly charged goal of such magnitude was surely satisfying enough.