The Next Lamppost
Life is like running. I know this, I've written about it before. But as with most things in my life, I have short memory—usually only when it comes to the important stuff though, chances are if we had a face to face conversation inside the last 25 years I could probably recount—verbatim—what you said on that occasion, and just to freak you out even more, could tell you what you were wearing. Weird, I know. So the running thing. The most recent telling of the whole “Life is an Ultra-marathon” spiel was back at a keynote speech I gave in the States this past February. I spoke about it being possible to bluff a 5k, 10k, or even a half marathon. I went so far as to say that with a little training you could bluff a marathon. My point was that to really go the distance in the race of life—an ultra-marathon in other words—one had to really be ready and trained for all that life would throw at you. The talk sounded great! Then a lady came up to me afterwards and said with a sad face, “I ran a half-marathon once and was really proud of myself.” Oops. This is kind of embarrassing, I internalized. [It was not as embarrassing, of course, as the day back in 2006 when I was behind the bar of my pub in Notting Hill, the Ladbroke Arms, and a lady came to the bar to order a bottle of wine. It was probably 3:00 in the afternoon and I'd had a few (more like 5-6) pints by this stage—this was all normal for me back then. Anyway, my daughter had just been born and I was all full of fatherly love and Heineken. Maybe it was the beer goggles, but she looked like she was expecting. “Are you pregnant?” gushes I. “No,” says she, rather depressingly “I had a child.” I put on my most sympathetic face and mustered every bit of charm I could, and like a doctor delivering a death sentence said, “Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to lose the baby weight.” I said this with all the authority of a man who'd seen two kids born and listened to endless women come by our house to tell of their after-birth weight struggles. “My son is two!” she replies, before taking her bottle of wine to the table with a grunt.]
Ok, so I got off track there. What was I jabbering about? Oh yeah, my spell-binding theory about life being a marathon. It's not like I want to insult anyone who has done a 5k/10k at all. It's all relative. I have way more respect and admiration for a person who does a couch to 5k than a pro athlete. Their lives revolve around sport and are paid to do what they do. One thing I think we can all agree on is this-getting in shape, and staying in shape, is not easy. The initial hump of training is difficult to overcome. I almost quit the first few times I went out running. It was just too much work and discomfort. When I finally broke through that initial physical and psychological barrier, I was freed. But that didn't mean I could rest on my laurels. No, I had to repeat the process over and over.
I got out of shape over Christmas this year. It had nothing to do with food and the time of the year, etc. It was more to do with laziness and depending on shortcuts and quick-fixes to bring me joy. Running brings me immense joy, I just didn't want to make the effort. I gained weight and became grumpy and demotivated. [side note, hitting refresh on Twitter and Instagram only made me worse]
We lure ourselves into a false sense of believing that motivation will be enough to get us through. Motivation must be coupled with action. It reminds me of when I gave up smoking six years ago and I see it with many people who try to quit and fail. When I quit, I altered my habits completely. Instead of my 11:00 cigarette, I went for a walk. I substituted my 16:00 smoke with an apple. People don't quit on will power alone, they quit by altering habits. Nicotine leaves the body in 48 hours. Gone! No trace whatsoever. What keeps people hooked is old habits and routines. It was the same with getting back in shape for this season. I died the first few times I went out. I limped home after 5k feeling pudgy and beaten. I kept at it and it kept whupping me. It's only in the last few days—after weeks of struggling and coming up short again and again—that I have started to feel a real difference in myself. I think the main reason I have succeeded is because I looked at each step I was taking as opposed to the bigger picture. I looked at the lamppost 200 meters in front of me and when I got to that one, I looked to the next one. It was all about the steps along the journey and not the finish line. Cause let's face it, what and where is the finish line? In life it's possible to look at our projects and undertakings as never-ending and impossible. By doing so we short-change ourselves on the actual experience and the magic of making progress. Whether you are running 5k or 100k, the most important thing is you are lapping all those sitting on the sofa who are waiting for life to come to them.