No races, no point?

An immense flood of disappointment swept through the running world in March (tinged, I suspect, with some relief) as one race after another toppled under the tidal wave of coronavirus. 

Not only disappointment but worse, aimlessness, as the rug of purpose was pulled from under our feet. I can’t be the only one whose forward momentum – both literally and metaphorically – slowed to a jog, and then a shuffle, and then a complete stop. Without the starting line to aim for, what was the point? 

I’m not much of a one for medals – I’ve kept the ones for my marathons, my latest PB, and the couple of triathlons, but all the rest go in the bin. I’m not much of a race junkie, either; frankly, the commitment of signing up to more than a couple per season is too much stress. But the races I do enter loom large in the calendar; they’re the summit my months build to. So when those spring races were struck off, everything looked a bit… flat.  

In March, I couldn’t help but look back at the past three months and think about all the time, all that hard work that had gone into training for what would have been my first run along those famous roads (and infamous hills) into Boston. What a waste. What else I could have been doing with those hours; the early mornings running along the river, or evenings doing endless loops of a track. 

And yes, I’m annoyed that I was three weeks away (all being well) from being about as fit and as fast as I had ever been. And yes, it was a period in my life when it wasn’t hard to dedicate that many hours a week to training – something that may not be true next time I want to. But really. Really? Once I thought about it for more than a minute, I didn’t regret any of it. Because if the only reason – the single thing that gets you into your trainers and out of your door each day – is that one race on a distant spring day, that’s when you have to ask; what is the point?

Those Sunday morning long runs along the river were, yes, part of a training plan and yes, often about 10km too long to be comfortable, but were also enjoyable on their own terms. If it was sunny, great. If it was cold and rainy, by the time I got back home and had a delicious hot shower and a mug of tea, plus a couple of doughnuts for good measure, I felt like a brave and intrepid explorer. Those track nights and hills sessions; I was seeing friends, hanging out with people I like. If the session went well, it felt bloody great, and I was proud of what I’d achieved. If it went badly, I was proud I had at least turned up and tried (after the usual self-flagellation, obviously).

If you know anything about Aristotle, you’ll probably have come across the term eudaimonia. Basically, eudaimonia is the concept of happiness through living well, rather than believing that happiness will be achieved when you reach a certain goal. Will Storr, in his book The Science of Storytelling, puts it as such: ‘It’s living in a way that fulfils our purpose. It’s flourishing. Aristotle was saying, “Stop hoping for happiness tomorrow. Happiness is being engaged in the process.”’

And I think that is exactly what I had to step back and remind myself 100 days ago. I do care about races, about achievements, and doing better than I did last year. And – don’t get me wrong – goals are important. Purpose is what gets us out of bed every day. But that purpose, that happiness, can be the small, daily, action itself rather than the big goal looming in the distance. 

Why do you run? We ask this of ourselves all the time. But hopefully, ultimately, it’s because it makes you happy. 

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