“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty” – Theodore Roosevelt
As a middle class Brit I admit I’ve led a pretty pampered life. My grandparents’ and parents’ hard graft meant that I had access to a lovely education, moral and financial support through university, and was essentially catapulted off into the big wide world without so much as a thought that I wasn’t capable of doing absolutely anything I wanted, provided I put in the requisite effort.
I was also (thankfully), however, brought up on a diet of “I want gets nothing” and “work hard, play hard”. In other words, any sense of entitlement was beaten out of me at an early age, and I soon learnt that “fun” was far more satisfying when it came with a sense of reward for hard work.
So this makes me wonder, does living in a world of increasingly instant “gratification” – fast food, Slimfast, Easyjet, where we all seem to feel entitled to have more for less – lead to an increased sense of frustration? On the one hand we all want a quick fix, be it to finding the perfect job, perfect body or perfect lifestyle, while on the other, our general sense of satisfaction seems to be waning, and we’re all on the hunt for greater fulfilment. Our constant search for perfection is leaving us acutely aware of our imperfections, and any instant “results” that we may find tend to be fleeting at best.
A few weeks ago marked a year since I turned 35 and wrote my “F… It” list of 50 things I wanted to do, in no particular order. Most of the things on that list are not straightforward. They can’t be achieved in “three easy steps”, or just with the click of a button. And most of them aren’t things that money can buy. None of those that I’ve ticked off the list (writing the blog, skiing the Vallée Blanche, hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc, learning to meditate, completing a creative writing course) have been easy. But they have all, to a greater or lesser degree, been physically, mentally and/or emotionally challenging, taken me out of my comfort zone, tested my self-discipline and come hand-in-hand with a wonderful sense of satisfaction and a warm inner glow of achievement.
So it is with this in mind that I shall stand on the start line of the Vilnius Marathon, tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. It’s number 5 on my list. Run a marathon. And as a relatively recently reformed non-runner, this is definitely far from my comfort zone.
For a while I was doing pretty well at being a beginner runner. But then injury struck, as it tends to do, and I was out for six months. Coming back was tough. All my personal records went down the drain, and I couldn’t find the excitement or sense of achievement running had been giving me previously. After a few months of effort to change my running form in a bid to avoid recurrent injury, I was still not back up to speed. My running was half-hearted and I was getting increasingly frustrated.
I realised I had two options: take the easy way out (give up and find a nice new hobby) or suck it up and work hard. So I signed up for an autumn marathon. I figured it would make me run regularly, and in the end, if the worst came to the worst and I still hated running when it was all over, I’d at least have run a marathon (no mean feat) and given the whole running malarky my best shot. And anyway, it was February. September was ages away, so the whole thing just didn’t feel real.
But here I am. I’ve arrived in Lithuania, Vilnius is in full preparation – there are barriers along the roadsides all round town, the expo is up in Cathedral Square, and I’ve collected my race number and a smart Vilnius Marathon t-shirt that etiquette apparently dictates I’m not allowed to wear until I’ve completed the race and am truly deserving of it.
Preparing for tomorrow has been taking up my mental and physical energy for the past four months. Goodness knows, I must have bored my friends and family senseless. I have completed a fairly basic training programme – four runs a week with progressively long runs at the weekends. I’ve trained at home in Copenhagen and while visiting family in England and traveling for work in Helsinki and Geneva. I’ve gone out in wind, rain and heatwave (after all, there’s no telling what the weather might do on the day) and I’ve slogged on, even when my whole being has told me I am not capable. It’s amazing how much self- doubt a three-hour run can induce.
Yet the worst thing of all has been the past two weeks. The dreaded “taper”. Minimal running and maximum rest, sitting around on my bottom, eating like a runner and not getting much exercise. It is now less than 15 hours until the gun goes and I feel like a big old hippo with leaden legs, yet am about to hit an Italian restaurant for a great big plate of pasta. I am DESPERATE to go for a run. But the thought of 42km (10 km further than my furthest run yet) around a town I don’t know, with a couple of beasty great hills chucked in for good measure fills me with absolute, heart-stopping terror.
But the thing is this: whatever happens tomorrow, I have rediscovered my running mojo. I have set some new personal records and found that my body, with a lot of hard work, is already capable for far more than I could ever have possibly believed. So I guess the plan worked. The sense of satisfaction, achievement and, quite frankly, astonishment at how far I’ve come, is already well worth all the effort.
And if I manage to complete 42.2 km tomorrow (don’t forget the .2 – that 200m is going to hurt!) it will surely be the icing on the (well-deserved) slice of post-run cake!
P.S. As a tribute to those thousands and thousands of people with no sense of entitlement and no hope of an easy way out, whose pain and suffering are not “for fun” and who are embarking on journeys of hundreds of miles on foot because it’s their only option, I am using my marathon effort to raise some funds for Syria Relief. If you fancy throwing a few pennies into the pot, that would be wonderful and hugely appreciated. You can either donate to them directly, or through my JustGiving page.