No, not the one in my pants.
What follows in this blog is a tenuous link between a national characteristic and my approach to running that might make you smile (or smirk) but will probably leave you thinking: This guy has it bad, God help him.
Most runners, after some period of commitment, reach a level where they start to plateau on the development of their running ability. At this point people either accept the limit of the gift God has given them and open a can of Zen and drink deep or they join a running club, lose another stone in weight and keep on going until they fall over.
I live in the first camp but I occasionally feel some level of guilt that I’m not trying a bit more to be in the second camp. This is partly because I sometimes think the whole Zen-at-peace-with-the-world thing is a fig-leaf for being lazy (possibly informed by the image of the fat Buddha).
When these thoughts cross through my mind I think about the possible outcomes: should I join the running club and lose another stone in weight or should I scrounge around for some other strategy to enhance my performances?
I normally scrounge around because I fear that if I join a running club there will be one of two outcomes:
- I’ll like it so much my wife will have full grounds for divorce and I’ll be too scrawny to push the lawnmower
- I’ll quit
Both of these outcomes would not sit well with me (I like sex and cutting the grass and I dislike failure) so the scrounge around for some other performance enhancement is what I do.
The easiest performance enhancements are either food supplements or equipment. I’ve done the electrolytes, beetroot juice, gels and flat coke and they have their place but I wouldn’t want to live on them.
Equipment enhancements either make you look like a bad mime artist (compression gear) or give you sore limbs (shoe fads).
After a time (it can be years) the veil is lifted from your eyes and you realise that a snickers bar and a can of coke and a reasonable pair of runners is all you need.
All that’s left is your brain.
The biggest running muscle you have. Training of the brain can take many forms (repetition: doing something repetitively like going to school and looking at porn being one of the most obvious ones) but some of us are more gifted than others. This can be down to a combination of genetics and environment (the nature – nurture argument).
All that said, while it’s the biggest muscle, most running training is designed to help you ignore your brain (terms like shut up legs!, pain is temporary, failure lasts for ever and HTFU spring to mind).
While working on my nutrition strategy the other night in front of the television (glass of wine and a some peanuts) I was taken by one of those no-news stories that fill your screen during the summer. It was a BBC newsnight feature and it basically noted that the British are a happy bunch and there was a European survey to prove it!
I pulled up the survey on my phone for a look-see as to where we were in the happiness index.
The report is about 170 pages long which gives a hint as to the fact that it’s full of crap like policy context and regression analysis. It didn’t have a simple map with happy-unhappy countries in it.
But there is a section on national subjective optimism (page 29) – which nationalities are glass-half-full merchants and which are rain-cloud-merchants-of-doom – that caught my eye.
Despite having the worst economic climate in a lifetime, a corporate class based on nepotism and ineptitude, corrupt politicians, mass emigration, mass unemployment and rotten weather we are one of the most optimistic nations in Europe (only beaten to the top by the free-sex loving Scandinavians: Denmark, Finland & Sweden).
This is a complete contradiction if you live here but it does betray our secret weapon: optimism. If it’s shit now, just wait, it’ll get better.
I’ve thought about this and I’ve applied it to running (mine in particular and my ultra running in particular) and I now realise that this explains why I always have a smile on my face during races: It could be worse and soon the race will be over and the pain will go away so be happy and enjoy it while you can.
So, while the Kenyans have the altitude, genetics and attitude we have optimism.
In the last part of a long race I know which one will do me more good. My secret weapon.