There is perhaps nothing as subjective as the source of one’s incentive or motivation. We all derive inspiration for running from something – be it weight loss, world records or because you’re being chased out of Asda by an enraged security guard. Not being an elite athlete, I live by the mantra that the only person you are ever racing is yourself. It’s just you versus you. Not in a weird clone-type way like in the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Replicant, mind. More like ‘you versus your potential’. And I encourage others to think the same. After all, we’re all different with different aims, bodies, lives, pressures, strengths, insecurities, weirdisms and repellent personal habits.
This week it was my daughter’s school sports day. Which spells DANGER, Will Robinson! Why? Well, because last year parental participation was encouraged in several events. And, despite what I may have said in the above paragraph, the mentally competitive part of me was insistent that I MUST BEAT ALL THE OTHER PARENTS. To impress my daughter, of course. No other reason. Ahem. Anyway, this went…poorly. The lowest point being where, during that staple of sports days everywhere: the sack race – I lost control and fell, wiping out the Granddad in the lane next to me whom I then accidently kicked in the head. Whoops. Although partial pride was restored when I beat five mums in the 100m sprint. Let’s make it 100% clear – dignity played no part in the proceedings that day…
Happily for all concerned – and I’ll never know if the events of 2014 were related to this decision – there would be no parental participation this year. Instead, I was given the job of deciding the winner for each event and giving them the congratulatory sticker. Man, the power. I was drunk on it. I could make dreams. And I could crush them. I was the infallible voice of arbitration. Like Judge Dredd. If he was asked to hand out stickers at a primary schools sports day.
Anyway, this was great – you’d have to have a heart of stone not to take pleasure from all the smiling faces of the kids that sought Mr Taylorson’s Official Sticker of Approval. There was a dicey moment when I had to disqualify my own daughter from the egg and spoon race for what purists would call ‘illegal double handing’, but luckily the pouting was just momentary. Shortly after that, however, we were moving onto the flagship event. Well, the event I had awarded flagship status to in my mind and nowhere else – the 400 metres. Which was in reality significantly less than 400 metres, but consisted of a single lap of the running track that was painted on the school field.
Throughout the afternoon there had been one lad who had really earned my sympathy. It was fair to say that he wasn’t the most athletically gifted, and the fact that he was finishing every event without ever worrying the leaders was clearly getting to him. He’d even taken a tumble in the obstacle race and hurt himself. There were tears. He never finished it. I gave him a sticker anyway. He lined up for the 400 metres with the same look of discontented determination I’d come to recognise. But when the race started, something quite remarkable happened. As they rounded the bend onto the back straight, there was nothing in it. Then this lad began to inch into the lead with the type of running form that some might call ‘unconventional’. He was running with his eyes closed, face pointing upwards to the heavens, wearing an expression that had gone beyond determination into psychotic. As he rounded the final bend narrowly in the lead, his classmates – clearly recognising this as quite the unexpected show of awesomeness – exploded into a raucous chorus of support. This, alongside his sheer will, carried him over the line in first place as he let out an animalistic victory roar. I may have broke free from my impartial role as sticker dispenser at this point and offered a supportive acclamation of my own.
When I caught up with the lad where he’d stopped – some 50 metres past the finish line owing to his vigorous momentum – at first I thought he was crying. In fact, I can’t be 100% sure that he wasn’t. But what was apparent was that he was fighting furiously to get his breath back. I congratulated him with a literal pat on the back and gave him his sticker, about which he seemed unconcerned in comparison to his need to suck in oxygen. Despite his obvious exhaustion, I could discern a look of self-satisfaction behind his eyes. Quite frankly, he’d given that everything he had. As I edged away I watched his fellow participants, classmates and teachers all tell him how well he’d done as he began to return to looking a normal colour.
I can honestly say I have never, ever seen a piece of running that more exemplifies effort and determination. I may have a tendency to be a bit of a sarcastic arse at times, but when I say that this was a truly motivational thing to witness, I do so with total sincerity. World records and gold medals are all well and good to the fraction of the population ever in the position to achieve them. But the numbers on a scoreboard or a chunk of metal on a ribbon can’t replicate that feeling you get when you give it your all, you do your very best and you succeed. Those moments where it’s you versus you – and you win.
This week’s running:
I’ve trotted out 16.4 miles since the last blog update including a 10k that qualified me for my first virtual running medal and a few miles in the moors. More on both of those next week…