I don’t know if society has changed or if it has always been like this. We want things easy. We want a quick fix. The route of least resistance. There’s no true satisfaction in being handed something on a plate. The real paradise is found in the hard graft. The journey towards success. The tough days and nights. The ups and downs. The sweat. The tears. It is the thing that makes the goal worth it. If your non-runner friend rocked up at a marathon and cruised round effortlessly in sub 3 hours. Would it change their life? Would they be overwhelmed by all the hard work that lead to that one moment? It wouldn’t mean anything. The work makes it real.
I have for years said I don’t play the lottery because winning would be a curse. It would stunt my motivation. It would drown my desire to grow; to build a successful business; to finish my book; and chase my dreams of competing for Wales. I’d love to say it wouldn’t change me but of course it would. I am no different to you. I like things easy. I like comfort. Motivation isn’t always bubbling below the surface. I just can’t see how millions of pounds wouldn’t make me soft. Everything would be comfortable. Life would never be the same. Nonetheless, I can tell you honestly if you offered me that win right now I would say yes. I would convince myself I could still be the coach and athlete I desire to be and that I would still finish my book. I would find a way of justifying it in my head. My family come first. I would love that comfort.
Let’s dig deeper. Money isn’t my motivation, so the lottery metaphor is irrelevant. My motivation is success. The quest for accomplishing amazing things I can only dream of achieving. Setting a good example for my family and striving to be the best I can be. I have many huge goals in my life but let’s focus on the one most relevant to most of the readers – the marathon.
The marathon is a beast, and it keeps me coming back. The huge challenge it poses makes me want to smash it even more. I don’t even know how hard I will have to work to reach my true marathon potential, but I am hell-bent on finding out.
This leads me to what this article is really about. Going all in. Rolling the dice. Taking a massive swing. We all only get to live once. One shot at this crazy adventure we call life. That statement should give us the freedom to go after our dreams with everything, but often we feel judged. I know I do. I can’t help it. I care what people think. I tell myself every day to liberate myself from the shackles of anxiety. To focus on my dreams and the people I love. But somewhere lingering nearby is that social judgement many of us feel crippled by.
The judgement whether it is real or imagined comes in different forms for me in my marathon example.
The first group are the doubters. They don’t believe in my lofty quest for greatness. They think I am a dreamer. I run too much. I focus too much time and effort on a hobby. I should be putting my time into other more valuable pursuits. They have heard it all before. The time goals. The dream to run for Wales. Some are vocal. Some less so. Many doubters hide in the shadows waiting for you to slip up. They love to see you fail. Maybe it makes them feel better about the goals they never went after. Or perhaps they are just realists and like to be proven right.
The next rally of doubters are the cautious type. Or perhaps they are sensible. They think I am overdoing it. ‘You are running too much. You will break. You need to take more rest days. Another day off for you is good. Volume doesn’t matter that much; as long as you do your sessions’.
This is where we hit a fork in the road. I can either listen and do less. This approach will reduce my chance of injury. It will free up time. It will mean I am fresher for workouts. Numerous benefits of working ‘smarter not harder’. Or I can take the unpopular road. The hard road. The road where I give it everything and run more miles than I ever have. I take some risks. I push my limits in the quest for greatness. I may increase my chances of injury but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
This takes us back to the reason I love the marathon. The huge challenge it poses. The harder I work; the greater satisfaction I get at that finish line. Whether it’s the outcome I dream of, or not, the sense of accomplishment is enhanced by the graft I endure beforehand. What did I go through? What ups and downs did I face to get to that line?
I have a bat and I’m going to take a massive swing. I could be cautious but how many cautious people have inspired you? How many people who did less became great? Even now as I type I start to worry that I may be offending people? I don’t mean to. I just know that I can’t wonder what could have been. I can’t think in a few years would I have run faster if I had worked harder? I have to find out. I have to try.
Let me be clear. There are risks with going all in. Winners don’t become winners on their first try. Or even their second. It takes thousands of times trying and failing to finally make that breakthrough. You have to be resilient. You have to embrace failure as a lesson. Learn and adapt. Take another step in the direction of your dreams. This is the hardest thing to do. I hate failing. I hate that feeling. The doubters are right again. The hard work didn’t pay off. However, it is imperative that you keep going. If you never fail to give up; you never fail.
The next faction of doubters are actually the opposite of the cautious type. They think I am lazy. I don’t put in the graft. I am all talk and waffle. I spout these big dreams. Plaster social media with my quest, but do I ever act? Do I ever give it all to make them reality? On many occasions I have been told I am talented. That I am lucky that I have running genes. I think the word talent detracts from the hard work I have put in but maybe there is some truth to this. Maybe I do run faster than many others who are working just as hard.
If I do have talent and don’t go all in, what a waste of talent it was. I came to running late in my life. I started running aged 28, and am now 32, but in endurance events this is not a barrier. There have been numerous tales of people making changes to their lives and doing great things whatever age they are. The only limit is my level of ambition and willingness to find out what I can achieve.
The final doubter is probably the main one, me. I think everyone can resonate with self-doubt. I like the chimp analogy used in Dr Steve Peters’ ‘The Chimp Paradox’. I am constantly battling with my chimp; or a part of my brain for those unfamiliar with the analogy. Sometimes these feuds are over whether my goals are realistic. Other times they are just over how hard to work. I justify taking the easy road far too often. When you are worried about getting injured it becomes a very convenient validation to run less, recover more. It actually makes perfect sense to back off. But often it is the crazy dreamers with relentless ambition and drive that prosper over those more measured thinkers.
In the marathon world I look at the great runners I would love to emulate. How can I be like them? How hard do they work? What do they do that I don’t?
If I am honest it’s not the East African dominance that really inspires me. The huge performance gap between the likes of Kipchoge’s 2:01 and the UK’s best Callum Hawkins’ 2:08 feels vast. The headlines coming out of Kenya are littered with doping and corruption. Two-time London Marathon winner and former marathon World Record holder Wilson Kipsang; an athlete I used to admire; has recently been provisionally suspended for whereabouts failures and tampering with samples. Before him, 2016 marathon Olympic Gold medallist Jemima Sumgong was banned for 8 years after she was found guilty of using EPO. It’s not just the marathon where cheating and corruption seem rife. Asbel Kiprop the 2008 Olympic 1500m Champion and three-time World Champion was also found guilty of using EPO and was even given advanced notice of the drug testing, which breaches testing protocols.
Doping taints the sport and I despise it. It unfortunately makes me feel uneasy about other great performances coming out of the same training camps. It’s not the sole reason I struggle to relate to some elite runners though. The vast difference in training environments and culture make it difficult for me to put myself in their shoes, or trainers I should say. On the other hand, I look at some of the elite British marathon runners and feel inspired. I see them at races. We have a chat. Many of them are working full-time alongside their running. Many of the best marathon runners in the UK are even in the same club as me, Swansea Harriers. I’ve experienced Dewi Griffiths (2:09) running extra laps of the track after the main group’s session is finished. I’ve also seen him devour huge mounds of food from Toby Carvery the night before a race; and sink a beer or two afterwards. I can relate to this. I see the hard work the best Brits are putting in every day. From Matt Clowes tearing up the Taff Trail; Clara Evans running tempos around Roath Lake; to Aaron Scott consistently banging in 115 miles around Stamford. They are putting the work in. They are committing to their goals.
You shouldn’t compare yourselves to others, but I wanted to find out what the best British runners were doing. Were they playing it safe? Or were they going all in? I ventured to Strava and found 8 of the top 20 marathon performances by UK men in 2019. All sub 2:18 performances. I averaged the 15 weeks running including the taper, leading up to these incredible feats to find that on average these men had run 90.3 miles. The fastest UK man (2:12 Berlin Marathon 2019) to share his training on Strava was Jonny Mellor who ran on average 105 miles per week. This was also the most miles averaged by any athlete I analysed.
Correlation does not imply causation. I am not saying that the way to run quick is to run more miles. I am saying that none of the best UK athletes were running as few miles as I was. I ran on average 62 miles in the 15 weeks preceding Frankfurt Marathon. On the day I experienced difficulties with a stitch but this doesn’t hide the fact that I didn’t work as hard as the other runners I aspire to compete with. If 60 miles a week was the optimum volume of training for a marathon runner then why are all the elites running much further? Can I withstand more mileage? There’s only one way to know. I have started progressively building my mileage whilst implementing more strength sessions. Hopefully this will pay off as I build towards the London Marathon.
Enough waffle. I have a run to do. I am in week 6 of the best start to any marathon block I have ever done. That doesn’t mean much, but it’s a start. I have no more excuses. I have put my goal of 2:24 out there many times. I am taking another shot at it. I am doing more than I did last time. I am working harder. I am still listening to my body but I am not letting my chimp tell me to back off all the time. I have to take some risks. I have a bat and now I intend on taking a swing. I am going to roll the dice. I’m going all in.
I wanted to conclude this piece by stating that everyone’s goals are relative. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t even started running yet and your goal is to complete a parkrun. That’s your journey. That’s your quest. Ignore the doubters and find a way to make it happen. We all have our own complicated lives but there is always room somewhere to pursue your passions and to show the drive to achieve things that your chimp doubts you can. It’s great that social media has opened up this world of sharing. I am inspired every day by runners of all abilities on Instagram, Facebook, Strava, and YouTube. If you have a goal, be the outlier and go after it. Good luck. Remember you will fall down but you can get back up and go again. That’s what life is all about.