Last Saturday got me thinking about training for big challenges. More accurately, I was thinking about not training.
It was a bit cold, the bed was warm and comfortable and going out for a long run was just about the last thing I wanted to do. Despite that, I did go out and I did run 20.7 miles.
Did I enjoy it? Hmmm … I probably enjoyed having done it more than I enjoyed actually doing it.
Will I carry on doing it? Yes, of course I will.
So, why do I do it is the key question. No one is paying me to run so what makes me? I’ve narrowed it down to just a few things, I don’t know if I’m in line with others in this but for me, it’s:
1 I quite like exercising. I value being reasonably fit and am vain enough to enjoy being fairly slim. However, this is only a small part of the motivation. It doesn’t justify the level of training needed for a proper challenge. Without the challenge I’d still cycle, run and go to the gym, but there’s no way I’d do as much.
2 I like the feeling of having done some hard exercise. There’s a good deal of satisfaction at the end of the run/cycle/gym session but that’s gratification some time in the future – the feeling that it would be easier not to go out is often much stronger and certainly more immediate.
3 It feels to me that the great bulk of the real reason why it’s possible to get out to train for a big challenge is all about the commitment to the challenge itself.
Either it’s the positive aspect of feeling that the training will make success in the challenge more likely – or it’s down to fear: fear that without the training I’ll fail in the challenge or it will turn out to be a very unpleasant experience.
So, it looks like the question to ask is not so much ‘why train?’ but ‘why take up the challenge in the first place?’. No challenge, no training, more time in the nice warm bed.
My first challenges were the London Marathons in 1998 and 1999 (in my early/mid 40s) and they really were a leap into the unknown as I’d done nothing like it before and was probably caught up in the testosterone-fuelled excitement of five of us at work getting carried away with the idea.
My big cycling challenges have been rather random. The Etape du Tour in 2013 was a complete shot in the dark – I’d only been cycling for 3 years but a couple of friends had completed the Etape the year before so why couldn’t I?
L’Eroica in 2015 was an appealing prospect (and a trip to Tuscany is never to be sniffed at) and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux was an enticing challenge that could be picked up on the way back from Italy – and to a cyclist there is something very special about Ventoux. Equally it was a challenge that relatively few had taken up – my number is well under 9000 while there are now nearer 14000 successful challengers.
‘Everesting’ on the bike in 2017 was again a great (and ridiculous) challenge – something that relatively few had achieved (I think I was in the first 1800 – it’s now nearly 3000).
Riding out to the alps, solo and unsupported, last summer was something I’d wondered about for some years of driving out there. I’d not done a multi-day ride and hadn’t ever really ridden to anywhere before, as opposed to doing out and back rides.
My current challenge of running the Rotterdam Marathon in April is rather out of left field – but it will be great to run it with my younger son (even if I only see him at the start and finish as he shows me a clean pair of heels).
So, why do I take on the challenges? I wish I knew the answer.
Is it simply that I like the vanity of being known as the chap who has done some slightly extreme things? Am I shallow enough that I like it that Philip, who was once my mad cycling friend, now regards me as his mad cycling friend?
Do I like the framed pictures/momentos/’brevet’ cards so much?
Am I addicted to the masochism of the effort?
Possibly guilty as charged on all counts.
Perhaps it’s simply that, as you get older and no longer have to test and prove yourself at work, you need to test and prove yourself some other way – and that setting myself challenges is my way of doing that.
Whatever the answer, what I do know is that I will be looking for a new challenge after the Rotterdam Marathon. Whether it’s the bicinglette, John O’Groats to Land’s End, another marathon or an ultra marathon is not particularly important – the key, surely, is having the challenge.