Running as a metaphor for life

I went for a 5km run today. I’ve said before that the 5km run is under rated for its power to transform a person’s fitness and heal a person’s soul. The distance is intricate in its complexity. It’s easy to train for a 5km run and access to a track and shoes is inexpensive. There are numerous ways to measure performance and to increase your ability to manage the fatigue and build on your speed to become better and faster, but I digress.

I started out of the car park. It was mid-afternoon and around 34 degrees. I find that training in hot temperatures has a beneficial training effect, and with the right tools it’s possible to measure the point when the heart rate is affected by the body’s need to better regulate temperature, the HR is decoupled from the runner’s pace and is a well-known marker for athletes when measuring their fitness.  I can usually maintain around 140 bpm at about 5:30 a kilometre and then my HR will start to soar when the temperature starts to affect me.

I was cruising along, my watch indicated the end of the first kilometre – 5:23 a kilometre with a HR of about 120 bpm. I thought about this and decided that the track heading out from city beach must be a slight decline. The next 500m felt even easier and I decided there was a couple of choices to make, take the free speed now while the going was easy or hold something in reserve for the inevitable hard patches ahead. I decide on the later and held back my pace. Or so I thought….

Life lesson 1 - Measure yourself against the right metrics.

Sometimes in life we think we are holding back. We measure ourselves against the wrong metrics. I was measuring myself against how I felt, my other performances and my perceived effort. In fact, I rolled through the 2km mark in 5:00 a kilometre with an average HR of 168bpm. This is well within my comfort zone, but I wasn’t looking at the whole picture and I resigned myself to feeling strong today and kept motoring through, increasing my pace and ignoring the data. It didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t feeling hot today, even though the temperature was in the mid-thirties an indication that there was a breeze behind me. I did know it was a slight decline; but even so, that wouldn’t increase my pace by that much. I was loving this – oblivious to what was yet to come.

Then, I hit the 2.5km mark and turned around. The wind from Freemantle was immediately evident, as was the incline. And, that’s when it dawned on me.

Life lesson 2 - There's a fine line between coasting along and adversity

Running is a metaphor for life. I was coasting along, oblivious to the things helping me at the time. I was taking it all in my stride happy with my lot in life and then I turned around and BOOM – adversity hits. The realisation that the second half of this run would be a battle, as with life.  Suddenly, I wasn’t going to be under 25 minutes for the 5kms – I’d be lucky to finish.

The wind was making me feel like I was walking. My lungs screamed, as I struggled to maintain pace and my legs burned from the incline. I started to use excuses in my mind to give up (walk home). I did dead lifts and overhead squats this morning (at 5am while you slept – not boasting just a fact) that’s why I should give up. All I have eaten today was bacon and eggs and a protein shake, I should give up. It’s hot and I haven’t had enough water, I should give up. If I walk I’ll survive to run another day. So many excuses to just give up, on this run and life.

Life lesson 3 - Have a frame of reference

Then – my frame of reference kicks in. It’s a day not unlike any other day, except we are pinned down by a huge Taliban force in the Gumbad Valley and we have no food, no water left  and ammunition is scarce with no hope of a resupply. I have to get my men out of a crappy situation and giving up isn’t going to be an option. That day truly sucked, and this run has nothing on that and no event ever probably will either.

And with that in mind, I decide to keep running. I roll through 3kms in 5:21 with an average HR of 183. I resign myself that the run is now tough, like life sometimes becomes. It was easy for a while and now it’s just tough, but I know it will become easy again, so I endure. The wind becomes a surmountable challenge, I just decrease my stride and look down. The incline isn’t an issue, I just lean into it and relax my breathing and legs. I roll through the 4km mark in 5:46 with an average HR of 183. I’m putting in effort, but I’m not uncomfortable; because I have decided that I will allow myself to go through this hard patch in order to grow as a person and gain fitness and character from it. I start to drift off, forgetting the pain, looking around at the plants in the sand dunes and the cars going past on the road next to me. I finish the last kilometre in 5:37 and my average HR is 186 (Max 192). It wasn’t easy, and I was telling myself “what would happen now if you were told to do it all again, would you break – or would you smile and nod, show little emotion and get the job done?”

There are parts of life that are amazing. For the most part though life is mundane, it’s comfortable and tolerable. Then there are parts of life that truly suck, punctuated by grief, sorrow and loss and you just have to dig deep and endure it. The thing is, that like the 5-kilometre run, there are outside influences that effect your performance, some of them you can contend with and maximise to your advantage, other influences you just have to roll with and let them impact you.

The trick is actually understanding that this is occurring and changing where you put your efforts. This might just help you run your best time, or live a life that’s worth living.

The author, Bram Connolly, in his first Half- Ironman triathlon – Dubai 2014.

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