When we are at the height of our powers I think it is often accompanied by the belief that we can be faster. If we just train a little more, better, harder, smarter we can push on to that next level. But what if this is as good as it ever gets. And what if we miss enjoying it because we are so focused on how much better we can be tomorrow?
Back in 2014 I had just come off my second Kona and was in the middle of the best block of running I’d ever put in. I was running faster in training than I had ever thought possible. There’s a run group we used to meet in the Phoenix Park early on a Sunday morning. It was made up of runners from several local clubs ranging from 3:30 to sub 2:30 marathoners. It usually started at a fairly civilised pace although there was also plenty of weeks where I was under pressure right from the start. On the occasions when I was struggling from the start I’d hide somewhere near the back of the group and try not to get pulled into conversation so as not to waste any energy as I tried hard not to get dropped.
There were the weeks when I felt good and I would slide towards the front. I would slot myself in beside or just behind what I considered to be the real runners (I always felt like a triathlete blow in)
Then there were the special days when I was just floating. Sometimes with close to 20k running done and only 2 or 3k more to go we would turn onto the main road of the Phoenix Park. The pace would kick up a notch and someone would invariably ask who “rang a bell” referencing the last lap of a track race where someone kicks for home.
I remember one Sunday feeling invincible and itching to push the pace further. I was up on my toes and feeling like I could run the legs off anyone. I moved up and onto the shoulder of the front runners. I settled in behind but quickly became impatient with that. I wanted to stretch my legs. I moved to the front and picked up the pace again. We were now moving at somewhere around 3:40 k’s (which is faster than I can currently hold for 5k never mind at the tail end of a 22k run)
I was breathing hard but was still below my limit, just. But I felt so alive and strong and fast and invincible and I wanted to show off (because I was cocky and stupid and for some reason thought I was fast) so I pushed a little more. The speed went up, my breathing rose with the effort and I knew I was very close to my limit.
It was also arount this point that I was shocked to realise that I could hear a couple of conversations going on behind me. Jesus I thought, how fast are these guys? I couldn’t imagine being able to string a sentence together never mind hold a conversation I was breathing so hard. I decided that while no one had yet felt the need to punish me for my arrogant stupidity I should slink back into the anonymity of the middle of the pack.
Despite the humbling realisation that I was a legend only in my own underpants and not in the wider running world. I was at the time probably the fastest I had ever been. The thing was though I didn’t really appreciate it. I was so completly focused on how much faster I could go, how much more I could improve that I didn’t stop to look at how far I had come and because I felt so invincible I didn’t realise just how fleeting the whole being a superhero (in my own mind) experience would be.
It was only weeks later that I was laid up in hospital after back surgery and right at the start of a very long journey back to being fit and an even longer one to being able to run again, never mind run with fast people. In fact it was almost 8 weeks before I could even get out of bed for more than 30 minutes at a time.
I still look back and marvel at the level of fitness that I took for granted. I didn’t truly appreciate it until it was gone. Myself and Ais were out running with a friend of ours recently.
She was a very fast runner until a knee injury led to an operation which in turn resulted in close to two years recovery. She’s now back racing again but with a completely different mindset to what she had a couple of years ago. She, like me had realised how little time we might have at the height of our powers. Whether the height of our powers is a sub 3 or sub 4 marathon or just being able to finish one. It’s all relative to where we started and has nothing to do with how we compare to others.
When I ran my first marathon I thought someone who ran sub 3 was like a different species, talented and beyond anything I could aspire to. When I broke 3 hours myself a couple of years later I then thought that sub 3 must not be all that special if I had managed to break it and my focus shifted to those who were running sub 2:50. They must be the talented ones. Now looking back I sort of wish I had just enjoyed the level of fitness I had reached instead of only focusing on what might be out there in the future.
I write this as I am ironically once again focusing on what is out there in the distance. A return to the sort of fitness that saw me qualify for Kona. A return to being able to run with and more importantly keep up with the Sunday morning gang.
I think that finding the balance between enjoying exactly where we are right now and still pushing ourselves to be better and explore new limits is key.
It seems like no matter the lessons we learn we are destined to repeat some things again and again.
Make sure that you remember that this moment right now might well be the fastest you will ever be. Regardless of what our potential is we just might never realise it so enjoying what we are able to do right now is important.
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