or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the grind.
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To achieve competence in sport necessitates training. Training involves doing the same thing over and over and over and over again: to build up strength, endurance and capability; to learn about your team-mates in co-operative games; to learn the rules; to perfect your technique.
If you want to run a marathon, you don’t just turn up on the day and do it. You train for it. You go out running. You start small; 5km, then 10, 15, up to half-marathon, work your way up to 20 miles and then you’re probably ready. You go out, 3 to 5 times a week, trudging around the same routes that were stunning and interesting at first but soon lost their charm after the 18th time, or, when the weathers bad and you’re a fair-weather runner, in the gym, pounding away mindlessly on the treadmill, getting the miles into your feet, conditioning your body and your mind ready for the challenge. There will be times when it will hurt, times when you don’t enjoy it and times when it goes badly and all these times will make you question why you’re doing it to yourself. And you won’t have a good answer.
Of course, you can cheat in a marathon but apart from those with good arguments to do so, what will you, the amateur runner, gain by doing so? The kudos? The prestige? The respect? When you’re finished – even without cheating – and you’ve got your finisher’s medal on display, people will congratulate you and say well done but it won’t mean anything to them. And that shiny piece of loot-onna-rope is just a symbol of the amount of time you spent grinding out the miles before the race.
What do you do then? You’ve done your marathon and that’s it. Maybe you didn’t enjoy it and stick to smaller distances or hang up your running shoes all together. That’s fine. It’s not for you and that’s okay. But maybe you’ll want to do it again and try to do it faster or find a more challenging course. Maybe this is just the beginning of a new hobby, a new pastime that will find you running the same courses over and over and over again, all just to feel that kick of adrenaline and pure rush of an endorphin high; all just to sate your achiever tendencies. And I happen to know for a fact that all that training will give you a lot of time to think about all sorts of things – especially about rubbish like this.
In two days time, I’ll be running an 85 mile ultramarathon along an old Roman trail through the middle of England. The finishers medal – if there is one – is likely to be nothing more than a cheap bit of bronze coloured tin.
This race is my Naxxramas; that medal is my Epic drop.