Running on empty and the power of Hope

It’s been a while since I extolled the virtues of my mid life love affair with long distance running. Unsurprisingly this enthusiasm dilution has somewhat been due to the big pause button in the sky that’s put the world on hold for the last year on anything fun, such as running events, but to be honest it’s also partly down to me.

The highs of a new found worthy pastime, new challenges and achievements, and the euphoria and pride that comes with delivering “PB’s” with frightening regularity, have all receded in the last couple of years as the stresses of a full on CEO job and the general strains of life have left their mark. Part of their “mark” being the best part of 8kg which doesn’t help either.

So it was with trepidation rather than confidence that I boarded the expectant mini bus to the half marathon start line, with its usual mix of nerves and bonhomie that exudes from the pot pourri of life that is a crowd of pre-race runners, last weekend. Trepidation is a disappointing word to describe how you are feeling towards something you have made a conscious choice to invest your precious spare time on, but in this case it is apt.

Two years ago I was at the height of my running prowess. I had proved that the big 5 0 was no barrier that would stop me, neither was the specialist telling me – aged 48 – that “the ankle op will hold but don’t even think about doing anything like running on it”. Doctors! What did they know? I was invincible. My third marathon in 2 years on a flat course. What could stop me? So what that I’d just started a high pressure first ever CEO job. And that I’d had to scrimp on the marathon training as a result. It was in my bones now and I would smash another PB. Suffice to say I didn’t. I tried hard but in unfamiliar surroundings rather than hitting the wall I felt like I was assaulted by it it, limping home over the last 12k with a small army of thugs on my back hurling bricks at my limbs all the way. That was a lesson and also a turning point. Invincible I was not.

Since then in reality my running has taken a back seat. Sure I still manage a run most weekends, but no longer very far, nor very fast and not a sniff of a PB. If I’m honest it has also started to feel more like a habit, even at times a chore, rather than the lung bursting and head bursting joyous release it started off as. Maybe this is the same for all runners and all pastimes. More likely it was just that I had relegated its importance in my mind. The CEO gig was demanding an ever increasing and oversized portion of that particular organ, and the physical organs were suffering as a result.

I had always coveted the chance to be a CEO. Do things my way. Test out what I think I’ve learnt. Prove to myself I am up to it. And be able to do some good for a large group of people who deserve better. All sounds good. What is not so good is the way it takes over every waking hour if you let it. I have documented in other blog posts some of the fun and frolics of the first year. The second year has seen this jump up a notch further, and I’m now left in no doubt that this is actually the job. I can’t bring myself to describe it as “normal” as it’s anything but, however you get the gist.

The latest chapter in the gig that keeps giving is a takeover. Now, we are no Microsoft, but we are a sizeable business. Number 2 in our market, which is a big industry in a not so big country. And a takeover is a big complex – and long – operation. It hasn’t even completed yet but it feels like it’s been a second full time job for over half a year. And the intensity is ramping up not down. Before you think it, no, I’m not after sympathy. Big job, big reward, tough shit. I get it. But my point is that somehow, whatever the circumstances, you can easily get deflected from a healthy balanced approach to life. More depressingly, even when you do make the breakthrough of recognising it, that doesn’t automatically solve the problem. For instance right now I am way out of balance. Trying to understand what the new ownership wants. Trying to continue to treat the existing owners with respect. Trying to keep the team happy and focused. Trying to keep our customers informed. Trying to see if there is a management buy out option. Trying to develop a “do no harm” transition plan. Trying to keep our focus on the here and now. Forget trying to keep myself healthy and sane. No chance!

Ok, so now maybe I am playing for sympathy a bit. Sadly though, it’s all true and I probably need some. So what better way to force feed myself “balance” than take on an unprepared half marathon?On the same course as the one that ate me alive two years ago.

Back to the mini bus. We arrived as the sun came up, and after a couple of coffees and a couple of pees I jostled my way to the narrow start line amongst a far fitter and far younger crowd, belly somewhat sagging in what has strangely become a much tighter Nike top. Seamlessly I removed my number from my chest and instead pinned it over said sagging belly and immediately felt fitter. If the job has taught me anything it’s that there’s nothing wrong with covering up the cracks. Or folds in this case.

Before I knew it the hooter was off and so was I. The first section was a muddy narrow scramble, where sharp elbows and experience worked to my advantage. Suddenly I was in a “rhythm”. After about 2k I hit the first tarmac road just as the sun peeked up over the green hills ahead, and all was good with the world. I remembered what it was like to enjoy life. And the body behaved.

Not everyone was having the smooth run that I was though. In scenes that at times seemed to resemble the Somme, bodies were dropping left right and centre. The normally staid and placid ambulance crews were in heavy demand and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many stretchers. This was all alien to me though as I sailed through 5, 10 and 15k. The pace I has unwittingly set was fast, and remained in tact as the distance markers started to count down to a glorious finish.

16k. Still good. 17k. Another body strewn on the path ahead together with a first aider huddle, which I almost had to dodge around. And then bang! Just ahead of 18k with my mind already beyond the finish line, exuding perhaps both pride and smugness in equal measure, that same wall on the same section of the course from 2 years earlier, crushed me again. One leg emptied, and the other leg lurched in protest and threatened to “down tools” and I had no choice but briefly pull myself up and then to jam down 3 gears slower. I continued but it was barely more than a hobble.

I finished, and I finished in a better time than I expected, but in a worse state, and still deep down feeling like I’d snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Time passed, as did the wine, and the day didn’t seem so disappointing. Others I was with completed, pretty happy, and a throughly pleasant evening was had by all. Although for me, there was still a twinge of regret at what might have been.

A few more days on though and I’ve had the chance for some deeper reflection. In that momentum building 17k plus when I increasingly believed I was going to overachieve, the exuberance was breathtaking. The positively that genuine hope brings was flowing through my mind and my veins, and that’s what I’ve been missing. Sure, I couldn’t last home. But there’s a pretty obvious answer to that. Do the training. And that means get the balance back between work and life. That’s a no brainer that I have to work harder on, but at least now I have another reason to do so.

The deeper lesson though was about the power of hope. Hope is a wonderful thing. It’s Hope that drives those twin turbos of resilience and desire. Just like a plane, for optimal performance both turbos are essential, and certainly in the job situation that I currently find myself in. Right now I could do with discovering a Hope spring at the end of the yard, as I need to stop those turbos drying up. More of the gory details in time I’m sure. But for now I just want to bask in the sheer joy that Hope can bring if you are lucky enough to stumble on the right formula to let it. Get running!


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