The single hardest physical endeavour I have ever endured was the Glasgow Half Marathon.
I finished it in 1 hour 27 mins and it was pure hell from mile 3 onwards.
Despite my own internal advice/self talk and the advice of the experts around me who I both respected and admired (mainly my good friend Tommy Lawlor), I set off too fast.
I was aiming for 7 minute miles.
My first was 5:40. Second mile: 5:50.
“You need to slow down, wee baws. You’re gonna blow it”
Third mile was just over 6 minutes.
The sensible voice in my head piped up with: “Right, well done, you’re slowing down. But you’re still far too fast. Get yourself to 7 minute miles.”
But it was combatted with the brash, arrogant and stubborn part of my brain (which, unfortunately, tends to dominate):
“Fuck off, we’ve just done a 5km in under 20mins. Just over an hour of hell and this’ll be done – goal achieved. Keep pushing and stop being such a pussy.”
The sensible voice was overruled and I kept pushing. The miles gradually slowed down, but I was on track.
Mile 3 to mile 10 were a blur. I was in a state of ‘flow’. No thoughts that I can remember; just a physical and mental void of performance, contentment and ‘you’ve got this-ness’.
Then it came.
Exactly as I’d been warned: “Don’t set off too quick. You’ll ’blow your load’ and you’ll have nothing left when it matters most. You’ll hit a wall.”
At the 11 mile marker, running down past Eglington Toll, towards the Gorbals and the finish line at Glasgow Green, my state of ‘flow’ was shattered.
Now I could feel everything.
My feet were blistered (should have taken the advice of ‘breaking my trainers in’, rather than buying a new pair for the race). My shins were on fire – shin splints are real. This pace I’d been running at was definitely too fast for my body to handle.
My knees were aching.
I’d run this distance a few times before, but never at this pace. My lungs were on fire. My heart rate monitor was ‘beeping’ so often, indicating that I was above 85% of my maximum heart rate, that I turned the thing off.
I didn’t want to know anymore. I thought about stopping, walking to the nearest train station and going home.
“You’ve fucked it. I told you to pace yourself.” said ‘Captain Sensible’.
“Bolt! That’s not what we need just now.” the arrogant side fired back.
My family were at the finish line. I told people I was running. I’m not a quitter. I’m many things in this world but, when it comes to physical work, I’d rather my body failed me than mind quit.
2 miles to go.
Suffer, endure, move forwards…just do not fucking stop.
My pace was slower than I think I’ve ever ran and every single step hurt. But I was still on track for sub 1:30 and that’s all that mattered.
I came round the last bend at Glasgow Green, the crowd was loud, encouraging and inspiring. My legs were ‘jelly’ at this point. With every step that I took I got closer and closer to them not responding.
I kept thinking I was going to fall over.
“Just don’t fall. The finish line is there – get over it and then you can fall.”
I was side by side with an older runner and he put his foot on the gas for a sprint finish. I sent the signal from brain to legs to match him, but there was no response.
My legs kept moving, but only at the snails pace they were now only capable of. I ate his dust, but I got over the line.
I knew it was sub-1:30, I just didn’t know by how much.
I looked up and saw my family to my left. I briefly made eye contact, but pretended I didn’t see them.
I needed time. My throat filled up with emotion – pride, achievement, fulfilment. I needed a minute.
My eyes started to water. Tears trickled down my cheeks.
I’d done it.
My body was in pieces. Everything hurt. But the overwhelming feeling was one of euphoria.
I’d worked hard for this. I’d consider quitting at the 11 mile mark. But I persevered. I suffered. I endured. And I did it.
I believe that those feelings are paramount when it comes to personal development.
I think we should all expose ourselves to extremely uncomfortable conditions; whether physical, professional or personal.
Over the past few years, I’ve coasted physically.
Other than workouts in the gym, which are tough at the time but only for brief periods of 20 seconds to 15 minute bursts, I’ve not had a truly challenging physical test for a long time.
Most people workout/exercise to improve their body shape.
I’ve ‘set my body up’ with 14 years of investment. I can now maintain relatively low levels of body fat with a lot less effort than the next man (not because I’m lucky, but because of those 14 years of consistent and relentless investment).
So, for me, training is more mental than physical. The physical challenge will always be there. 100kg is 100kg – you’re either ready for it or you’re not. But the lift is over in a few seconds. It’s intense – extremely intense – but it’s a microcosm for real and true suffering.
I feel I need to suffer in order for my mind and my character to develop and grow. I need to be forced to endure. And I need to overcome when everything inside of me is telling me to stop.
This morning, as I was walked through Glasgow’s sunny, yet cold, streets I started feeling that I needed a challenge.
My first thought was the Glasgow Half Marathon all those years ago and my next thought was: “Double it. Find the next marathon that’s nearby and sign up for it.”
After a quick Google search, I signed up for the Belfast City Marathon on the 1st of May, 2017.
It’s over 10 miles further than I’ve ever ran before, and it’s in just over 8 weeks time.
I have got no where near enough time to prepare. I’ve got no where near the ‘running fitness’ to complete it. But I believe I have the the mental strength.
Or, a better way of putting it is that, I’m intrigued to find out if I have the mental strength.
This has been a massively rash decision, but it’s already given me a revived sense of purpose and being.
I think you should have a think about what you could do (no matter how big or small) to reinvigorate and test yourself.
Maybe that’s signing up for an event that you’re not sure you can complete. Maybe it’s getting off the couch and joining a gym. Maybe it’s as simple as going for a 20 minute walk.
Whatever it is and whatever stage you’re at…