On running, resolutions and reward
After six months in the game, I now understand why people get into running.
I was careful not to call my fitness plans for 2013 a “New Year’s resolution”. My resolutions always fail, so running was an “experiment”. At the time, I was doing about 5:30 per kilometre over five kilometres. I wanted to see if I could get to 5 minutes per kilometre by Round the Bays, a 6.7-kilometre race, on 17 February.
At least one of the reasons it was an “experiment” was that I wasn’t confident I could do it. I’ve never trained as a runner before: it always seemed monotonous and boring. But despite dealing with minor plantar fasciitis in the month leading to the race, I trained enough to manage an average pace of 4:49 per kilometre. Buoyed by my progress, I kept going. In the 10km event of Wellington Marathon last weekend, I finished in 45:53 (4:35/km), a bit off my over-ambitious goal of 4:30/km, but still far faster than what I ever dreamed of being capable of at the beginning of the year.
What kept me going? Running is not an interesting exercise: at amateur level, there is no skill or strategy like there is in the team or racquet sports. (I used to play basketball and hockey.) I got into running only on the encouragement of my avid-runner colleagues. The obvious answer for why I kept going is that I was motivated by my success, or at least improvement. But I think the real answer lies deeper.
In real life, I realised, “success” relies on factors outside our control. We rely on other people to help and deliver for us; we need to convince others to believe in us. We don’t always have the resources we need at hand. Often, our success is by definition the opinions other people—assessors, managers, peers—have of our work. Then there’s the luck of being in the right place at the right time for the right doors, too.
Against this backdrop, running is that rare activity where effort translates directly into results. To be sure, everywhere in life, effort always increases your likelihood of success. But how much your work actually pays off depends at least partly on the set of cards you hold at the time. In contrast, with running, if you put in the hard yards, you can be virtually certain (excepting injury) that you’ll see progress.
It wasn’t this way back at school and undergraduate university, where you could be fairly confident that working harder would get you better grades. But when you start work, what goes on around you is inseparable from how well you do. And to venture a guess, the further you progress in your career into senior or managerial roles, the more true this becomes.
So in a life riddled with uncertainty, running is a rock that I know I can rely on for reward if I just keep trying. It is, strangely, an escape from the realities of adulthood. Now that I understand this, it’s little wonder that running is such a popular pastime.