Autumn sunshine

30 October 2011

The official end of British Summer Time, but the very welcome arrival of a few more weeks of lighter mornings!



When you feel like you just can’t continue…

…start again.  Start as if you’re starting from scratch.

I was remembering this morning the experience of running my very first sub-hour 10K, back in March 2010.  It was a really big deal for me, but I absolutely loathed it!  Around 6K I really honestly thought I couldn’t go a step further.  I’d started too fast and I felt dreadful – dizzy and out of breath and aching.  I thought about how I’d stop right there, get off the path, give up and walk back to the lockers.  I clearly imagined myself walking back across Regent’s Park, collecting my bag and going home. 

Then I realised that whilst I’d been running all this through my mind, I’d still been travelling forward, one step at a time, at exactly the same pace.  I’d covered some more ground.  So it was possible to keep going.  I got back in my race and ran the last kilometres like I was just starting out on a little 4K run.  I didn’t manage a negative split, but I did get in before the hour (58:28).

At the more dramatic end of the scale, Scott Jurek, one of the greatest endurance runners, got 60 miles into the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley when he collapsed by the side of the road, feeling utterly hopeless and unable to go any further.  As recounted in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Scott told himself “There’s no way.  You’re done.  You’d have to do something totally sick to win this thing now.  Sick like what?  Like starting all over again.  Like pretending you just woke up from a great night’s sleep and the race hasn’t even started yet.

And he did it.  He got up, shrugged off the pain of the last 60, and ran eighty miles faster than ever before, even setting a new record time for the Badwater race with a time of 24 hours, 36 minutes.

I think sometimes life goes the same way.  You might have worked incredibly hard or ploughed your heart and soul into something, built yourself up to achieve your goals and dreams, and then for whatever reason doubt enters your mind.  It seems too hard, and the end too far away.  All the little setbacks and struggles that you overcame at the time, suddenly feel like a weight of evidence that tells you it won’t be possible to reach the finish.

But what if you throw them aside?  Dismiss all your doubts and fears and anything that’s come before this moment?  Start exactly where you are right now and take one step forward, as if it’s your first?

“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Early one Sunday…

Okay, not that early.  Not 6am anyway, more like twenty past seven, but most of London was not yet awake.  Or in the case of the man trying fervently to scale a lamppost in Primrose Hill, maybe not yet gone to bed!

I used to be a champion sleeper at the weekends, frequently still fast asleep at 9, 10 or sometimes even 11am.  That was until I started running, and until the person who inspired me to start also showed me how important it is to stick to a good routine at the weekends.

It makes sense.  Our bodies don’t understand that we ascribe five days out of seven to “work”, and then come the other two, throw our regimen out the window.

If you change your routine dramatically at the weekend (stay up late, get up late, stop moving), it’s very difficult to start the new week well.  6am Monday becomes very painful!

That’s not to say that it isn’t important to rest.  (Or occasionally to go crazy, stay up til dawn and try and climb a lamppost in the park.)  Most training and exercise schedules advocate a weekly rest day.  But if you build activity and rest into a good sustainable routine during the week, there’s no need to slump at the weekend.  In fact, I find now that if I “treat” myself to a lazy day and a late start (I tried this yesterday, for the purposes of research!), I feel rubbish!

Plus, if you love early morning running, and I do, then why would you want to stop?

Chasing the dawn

I hadn’t actually intended to run this morning.  After a 10K club run last night, today was going to be a rest day.  However since I’ve begun this regular blog, I’ve become a dawn-chaser, obsessed with capturing the perfect sunrise!  Hence I threw on my running gear and literally sprinted up a hill to take this photo!

a couple of minutes earlier...

It was a magnificent morning; perfectly still and crisp.  Until I started running a few years ago, I only really appreciated the weather when it presented an opportunity (or frustrated an attempt) to organise something like a picnic or a barbeque and never gave it much thought beyond what to wear or whether to take an umbrella out.  I would have given a glance at a cobalt blue Autumn sky or a spectacular sunset, but I would never have seen a view like the one I saw this morning.

We used to run our whole lives by Nature, from sunrise to sunset, but modern life has conspired to take us away from it.

Go out and fill your lungs with the bright air of dawn, and whatever you thought about your day when you woke up, I challenge you to think the same way about it when you get back.

The origins of running

Just finished watching a fabulous new BBC2 series The Origins of Us, with Dr Alice Roberts, and learned how 5 million years of evolution took us from four-legged climbers to consummate two-legged runners.

The physical characteristics that we possess today have been profoundly determined by the need for our ancestors to run.  Expanding savannah grasslands 1.5 million years ago took early humans out on to the plains where we flourished, but only because we could escape from new predators and exploit an opportunity to hunt down other animals over long distances in the heat of the African sun.

We developed longer legs, bigger hips, gluteus maximus muscles, a long narrow waist to enable us to twist our torsos and counterbalance the destabilising leg movement of running, and crucially the nuchal ligament at the back of our necks to stop our heads pitching forward. 

With the additional ability to regulate our body temperature through sweating, we can run down any animal over a long distance in the heat. 

Something to think about on the next run!

Do more successful people run? (Or does running make you more successful?)

Getting a new perspective

I’m fascinated by the other people out running in the early morning, and the commonalities that have us setting our alarm clocks an hour early, pulling our running clothes on and heading out into a dark, chilly morning.

Without any hard evidence (as yet!), I’m sure that as a group we achieve more, create more, solve more problems and demand more of ourselves.

The inventor, James Dyson told the FT’s weekend magazine recently that he’d “think nothing of a six-mile run before breakfast”.

There is plenty of medical research to be found on the benefits of running on energy levels, mental alertness and positivity, and all of these factors surely contribute to higher productivity.

I also think running, and particularly early morning running, encourages three more subtle success habits:

  1. The habit of starting something: getting up and getting going.  Creating or inventing or pioneering requires taking a step on a new path, departing from the usual, breaking the mould, starting something brand new.  Sometimes it’s difficult to get going on a new idea, but it’s only once you get started that the next steps present themselves.  Thus I think the practice of starting your day by shaking yourself out of the “normal” routine, getting up and getting going, inspires a more active and creative mind.
  2. The habit of being open. I think our tendency is to be closed; head down, under pressure, rushing, stressed, stubborn and frustrated.  Getting out in the open air and space and breathing in a new day is an excellent counter to modern life.
  3. The habit of being uncluttered.  Wherever possible, I don’t take anything with me but my keys.  If I’m going to run at dawn, I need to lay out my running clothes the night before and streamline a morning routine that would otherwise certainly tend towards cluttered!  I think it’s good practice.  Free yourself and your mind, and see what comes in!