A thread of hope

Normally I don’t include any context with poems, I just throw them out there and hope for the best, like lobbing a hastily improvised grenade. Or so I would imagine. Most of the time, the best is an ambiguous silence filled partly by the knowledge that someone, somewhere, has read at least a bit.

I may set a low bar (incidentally making me an awful and/or indolent high jumper), but I’d consider this a success. This does reveal something of my confidence in both myself and whatever I’ve decided, wisely or otherwise, to throw into the internet.

Every new year might be a largely if not entirely arbitrary division of time, and I confess my ‘tradition’ is usually to sleep through it, as I did last night, but I’ll try to continue posting more regularly through 2018. This might mean more poems, as they’re the things I tend to actually end up finishing most often.

This one’s probably my favourite from what I wrote last year. There’s a great quote from Frankenstein that I expect has found its way into this blog already: “seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries”.

That’s a big clue for the poem’s meaning, although my role in science and discovery is still, as ever, disappointingly nonexistent. I write a lot of very stupid jokes, and perhaps as a consequence the poems aren’t trying to be funny. To be fair, most of the jokes don’t succeed anyway. I would say to myself ‘stick to the day job‘, but I haven’t really got one anymore.

Anyway, with what was a fairly irrelevant preamble out of the way, here’s the poem.

A master’s ropes pull on reluctant legs,
A vessel full of joy drained to its dregs.
What once was sinew now seems puppets’ strings,
The limbs that moved as one, recast as ‘things‘.

They’ve come apart from what drove them before,
Lost promise that can bring them forward no more.
The mind that was a guide, it’s lost its soul,
But still the dice of chance will play its role.

Eyes half averted, also half transfixed.
Hope and despair are perhaps best unmixed,
Where to?”, they ask, “where now?“, the muttered cry,
Three fates are left to fight, to share one eye.

These spinners always spun the webs we tread,
What looked like solid ground, in fact was thread.
Its woven well through all we think our own,
And when we’re gone, what of these seeds we’ve sown?

Shelly’s great king left nought beside a sound,
Ariadne’s silk, spun of hope, unwound,
Yeats’ great work, to perfection it was brought,
A lesson not yet learned, but it was taught.

One thing still remains: “What then, asked the ghost
It’s what we have lost, that’s what meant the most

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“Occasionally, it should be funny”, or, undercutting the seriousness

One of my favourite podcasts (and podcasts are one of my favourite things), is Radio 4s book club, where authors are interviewed about their work. James Naughtie presents it, and his calm yet engaging style is one of the few things that genuinely helps me switch off my anxiety. Two of the episodes I most enjoy listening to are the discussions with Terry Pratchett and J.K. Rowling.

There’s a great line in the first of these where Pratchett says:

“There’s part of me that will go for the gag. I could have been a contender, I could have been a Booker winner, probably, if not for that terrible idea that occasionally it should be funny.”

One problem with this blog is that I always feel the need to make a joke or a witty digression or the impulse to include something that seems especially original or unexpected. This makes it far harder to follow than it needs to be. Frustratingly, it also means that the sharp editorial eye I like to think I cast over other people’s work is mostly blind to my writing deficiencies, not least the critical inabilities to be succinct and ignore these needs and impulses to chip in with meandering absurdity.

My dad mentioned a few weeks ago that the blog is mostly “about my internal thoughts”. “What are external thoughts, then?”, I was tempted to reply. You could make the legitimate argument that language and literature are an extension of thought outside the brain, and I could say that piece of self-reflective logic is why I didn’t. In reality, I didn’t have the balls.

Ed Byrne has a wonderful bit in his comedy where he talks about things he wishes he’d said. The title of the DVD this piece comes from, “pedantic and whimsical”, might well be one of the many subtitles I’ve played around with for this blog. I could write about it, but frankly his delivery and crafting of the lines makes it what it is. Have a look here if you like. If not, essentially it’s that story you’d like to tell everyone really happened but if fact you really walked away fuming at your inability to deal with confrontation or awkwardness by saying anything at all.

That characteristic is probably as important to my life as anything else. If I actually said many of the important things I wanted to say to people I’d probably spend a lot less time penning these sorts of things. Odds are I’d probably not be doing elite athletics though, and that I’d have been fired from my job in a running shop for repeatedly mouthing off to infuriatingly condescending, pain rude or just frankly idiotic shoppers. Swings and roundabouts I guess.

This bent towards witticisms and a wry look at the world is something I’ll probably never shake off. As I spend a lot of my time contemplating mortality, the moral philosophies that govern our behaviour and wandering around the realms of both memory and imagination, I struggle to put all my eggs in one basket. Frankly, I’ve probably lost track of most of them in between a myriad of potential baskets, most of which I’ve mislaid somewhere or other.

It does mean I’m rarely genuinely bored, and can happily spend a lot of time alone, which is great. On the flipside though, a mind that’s always switched on, producing endless reasons to avoid fully committing to anything isn’t really conducive to either a relationship, a job or, sadly, elite sport. Ultimately, it’s just running around in a circle, ellipse or wiggly line, with or without some ridiculous jumping around.

On the other part of the title, I always feel the need to undercut the seriousness of any situation, even if it’s only with thoughts to myself, and that makes it hard to really take anything entirely seriously. I get anxious, upset, depressed and stressed, I’d definitely say more than most people, which certainly make things seem serious. With that though, I know that it’ll go away, and life will bounce back to whimsical absurdity or musing abstraction soon enough.

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This is simply here to look ridiculous. It’s a Halloween costume from 2009 that perfectly blended absurdity and value (I just grabbed a pumpkin as serendipitously impromptu headgear, the skull gloves were an incidental bonus)

Giving up my job and becoming a de-facto professional athlete is definitely serious, but also definitely absurd. De-facto in this case being an exceptionally suitable word, meaning ‘whether right or not’, or, ‘with lawful authority or not’. That last bit’s particularly funny, as I’m sure my parents would have preferred me to be a lawyer, until I made it to a level where International Competition seems decidedly plausible. Now they want me to be an international-athlete-lawyer. Well, at least I’m making some progress…

Frankly, it was a pretty disposable job, and I was very easily replaceable. Rightly or wrongly, I’m much less replaceable as an elite athlete.

The supply of people who meet the criteria to work in a running shop, isn’t exactly limited, those criteria being:

 

No that blank space isn’t a typo. The only criteria at a basic level seem to me to be willingness to work, or, perhaps even more cynically, willingness to be employed.

This is largely a joke. I have a lot of friends who do a wonderful job in shops, and can give advice that encourages people who are nervous, self-conscious or have no idea where to start into a relationship with a sport that might change their life. In rare moments, that will happen, and those sorts of moments are a delight and a privilege.

The supply of people with the capability, inclination, time and sufficient lack of self-preservation instincts to be an elite steeplechaser is rather shorter. I find myself, perplexingly, inside the top 40 in Europe last year for my event. This still surprises me.

I had a bet with my roommate at the training camp I’ve just flown back home from that the loser of a best of three table tennis match would have to jump into the swimming pool on the roof. It was colder than you might expect for Tenerife, even in December, so this wasn’t as relaxed a wager as it might seem. When going to collect the bats, the receptionist asked us who would win.

“Me”, he replied. Almost at the same moment, I answered “him”.

I actually won, and when I returned the bats I was asked who’d come out on top.

“Me”, I answered with a smile. “You don’t have to be confident, you just have to be good.”

This great line was wasted partly because of the receptionist’s limited English, and partly my botched delivery of a carefully crafted zinger.

I’m still not confident, but, despite my best efforts to prove otherwise, not least in my last race, I am fairly good. While you might not need confidence, it’s important to take things some things more seriously, or rather with conviction, and some things with a more relaxed approach.

As things are now, I can float around whimsically most of the time, but when it comes to the sport that’s now my job, and especially races like the Commonwealth Games, I need to clear my head of these witticisms, doubts and diversions, and get that job done. We’ll find out if I managed that in a bit less than four months (final selection pending, to be technically correct).

 

Relax your face!

Most of my blogs are like that Guardian long read you maybe (hopefully?) find interesting on first glance, but then realise two minutes in that I’ll take much longer than you thought to finish. It’s then added to the ‘to read list’ that nothing gets out of. This isn’t like those. You could read it while brushing your teeth, unless you’re in a real rush. In which case, hurry up!

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Ah, so relaxed. Nothing like a nice cold foot bath. Photo credit Sam Barnes, Sportsfile.

When I’m getting to the end of a hard morning’s training on the track, the inevitable instruction drifts through from my coach.

Relax your face!” Ironically, this tends to be said quite loudly, but admittedly it’s not very effective to mutter or whisper from the side of a track.

Okay, that’s going in a suitable place on my priority list”, replies my internal voice. My external voice lacks both sufficient bravery and oxygen to answer.

There are a few things that might logically take precedence:

1. Continue to respire, using whatever means necessary (including osmosis and photosynthesis, worst coming to worst)
2. Remain upright, via the same approach as above. Maybe not photosynthesis, although sunflowers seem very good at standing up straight.
3. Keep moving forward (it’s a huge bonus if I maintain the same speed)
4. Make my arm movement slightly less like Phoebe from Friends.

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I really want to come past someone in a race like this. Definite bucket list item.

5. Avoid shaking my head around like one of those ridiculous dolls. You know, the football ones.
6. Stop thinking about falling over, stopping breathing or generally giving up.
7. Relax any other part of my body that I’m actually using to run (in between strides, so that I’m not moving like a robot. And not one of those slick sci-fi ones, like C3PO after being left in the blazing light of Tatooine’s twin suns all day.)
8. Continue to perspire, as I think when the body stops sweating very bad things happen.

 

9. Relaxing the sounds of my breathing, as if I was actually racing someone that’s probably what they would focus on more, considering that my respiration sounds at this point like Darth Vader struggling with a particularly severe pollen allergy.
10. Focus on leaning forward from the hips to bring my centre of gravity closer to my landing point, and maintain forward rather than sideways movement (this should be higher on the list but I’m not rearranging all these numbers now!)
11. Try and ignore all the pain everywhere. This one definitely needs to be higher.
12. Focus on why I’m actually training, by myself, in what for the purpose of this drawn out scenario are windy, wet conditions.

 

13. Maybe relax my face for as long as I can keep my attention on it, rather than any, or indeed all, of the more important things above.

Social Media Policy: what if it mattered, or, writing in ink

We mostly don’t need to think twice about throwaway comments on social media, because they’re just that: something to scribble down and discard.

The majority of content on Facebook, twitter and associated digital ephemera is in that ballpark. In this analogy, it’s a very messy one filled with balls of paper that either say nothing in particular, or say things that are so foul as to be either hilariously absurd or warrant immediate incineration. Perhaps often both. Now that ballpark is filling up at twice the rate, thanks to millions of daily selfies and photos of food, if my lazy prejudices are anything to go by.

Most of these balls of paper are unwrapped and passed between ‘friends’ (whatever that now means), ‘followers’ (always sounds scary to me) to some extent. Occasionally someone influential will serendipitously pick one of these up, and share it with their enormous circle, giving the originator of the message a flicker of celebrity. Not quite fifteen minutes of fame, as Andy Warhol proffered, but at least several thousand vaguely entertained clicks’ worth.

For some social media superstars, an artfully crafted breakfast photo that gets less than ten thousand likes is immediately deleted by advisers concerned about the negative effects of perceived unoriginality or lack of conspicuous public interest. Perhaps.

I follow more people on twitter than follow me. Some of us follow each other, which really only makes sense if we’re moving in some kind of giant sand circle, but maybe I’m taking this too literally. I have over five hundred friends on Facebook. This is about over five hundred minus, say, five, more than the amount of people I talk to at any length on any given day. I used to work in a running shop and have lots of broadly meaningless conversations. Now I don’t; more on that elsewhere.

I’ve been on Instagram for a few hours and appropriately have zero followers. I’m also on Strava, which positions itself as “the social network for athletes”, but if it was that, you’d have people editing the pacing and distance of their runs with some kind of elaborate filter to ensure more likes. I have more followers there than follow me, but, in the interest of transparency, I think that’s purely because one’s Strava following can be correlated with performance. Despite a few successful attempts to prove myself talentless, I’ve also had a few pretty good performances.

For various reasons, mainly past performance in sport (about 12 years of being a determinedly mediocre hockey player), expectation, confidence (or lack thereof) and the consistency of my health, I never thought I’d make it this far. I assumed I’d get ill again, get hit with a serious bout of depression, or just lose my love of the sport that’s become a job, give up and want to go home. I still want to go home, but I know I will in the next few years, and that’s enough for now.

Equally, I still love the sport, perhaps even more than before, and, hell, sometimes I’d be so happy and humbled by untroubled solitude and beauty of the environments I was running through so much I’d cry a little. I’m less depressed than before, even dealing with rather more sad and stressful things than I expected this year, and while anxiety, fatigue and depression have undermined a few performances this year, I’ve done what I set out to do.

My coach often mentioned that it is in some ways harder to prepare for success than to prepare for failure, because when you succeed, you need to change your beliefs about yourself. I’ve never really been brave enough to do that, and so I’m almost always surprised when things actually go well.

Training on the track in Tenerife on Wednesday, in admittedly hot conditions, I fell apart. According to a lab test in February 2016 (one of the things that convinced me to give athletics a proper go), my maximum heart rate is 200. Five days ago it was 202,. I felt like collapsing, but I thought I should at least get to six from the initially planned nine sets of two and a half laps (1km), even if I did collapse.

It was a bit of a watershed moment, a somewhat ironic choice of words as I was pretty dehydrated and at that point wanted to ingest as much water as possible.

I did the last rep, it wasn’t that much slower, and I didn’t die. I didn’t even partly collapse, which, while concerning, would have felt suitably dramatic. As evidence of my continuing survival, see below:

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Although I did spend half an hour in bed afterwards, after lying down face first for what I convinced myself would be thirty seconds before hauling myself into the shower. I was okay again. Not immediately, but well before my next hard training session on Saturday.

Among the various thoughts going through my head, I imagined elite sport like playing Jenga while getting progressively better. Eventually, your tower will fall down, and you’ll need to start again, but, with luck, the next arrangement of blocks will be taller. It’ll always suck when it collapses, but as well as getting better at carefully removing blocks you’ll also get better at starting a new tower.

Ultimately, you can’t be afraid of tumbling down. Especially if you’ve chosen the steeplechase as not only your athletics event, but as a sort of job too. Not everyone does their job right all the time though. Sometimes it’s outside your control, like a goalkeeper trying to save a penalty bound for the top corner, or Teresa May (or, ah, anyone) trying to make Brexit work.

Sometimes you fall over ‘just a bit’ and manage to style it out. When everyone’s job is trying to win, most people will go home disappointed. That doesn’t mean you give up.

There’s a great quote in a book about positivity a friend of mine gave me.

Whenever you fall down, pick something up” (Oswald Avery)

The first thing to pick up is yourself, and I’m getting better at that. Another one is a response to failure: “fail again, fail better” (by Samuel Beckett, who is ironically often rather distopian in his outlook). That seems to be working too, if managing to eat regular meals and keep a vaguely normal sleeping routine after the Irish cross country championships is anything to go by.

This title came from actually getting a bit of social media training last week. I’m faced with the seemingly unthinkable situation that, in some small way, some of these scribbles might mean something. I always knew someone read them, but I have to grudgingly admit more people are doing so. With a increasing but still small readership comes an increasing but still small set of responsibilities and sense of significance. There’s a small chance I might matter, so I have to pretend everything I write could.

Again on social networks, here’s a bit I like from a film of that name:

The Internet isn’t written in pencil Mark, it’s written in ink”

Just as you can’t remove a bad result in athletics, you can never fully scour something from the internet once you’ve dropped it there. To be honest, I can probably get away with changing or removing all my past posts, or indeed this whole  blog, and have it vanish effectively, just as I could walk away from the sport that has brought new extents of delight and despair over the last year and a half.

As time passes though, doing so will become harder. I have responsibilities now I didn’t have before, and I can’t pretend otherwise. I’ve written openly about depression and anxiety before, I’m not going to stop doing so. That’s as much a part of my life as anything else. I’ll say and write more stupid things, and get more bad results, but, if the time since June last year is anything to go by, it’ll be worth it for the better moments.

The clock strikes twelve, or, saving the worst for last

Sometimes things work really well. That’s not hard to write about. Certain things have been superb recently, not least two cross country races. I didn’t write about either of those. Occasionally, and thankfully not very occasionally, all the wheels seem to fall off at once. That happened yesterday.

It appears I’ve reattached everything now, but it’s probably going to happen again at some point. Next time, I hope it’s an even quicker pit stop, and that the new wheels might even be slightly better than the old ones.

Digested read:

I had a terrible cross country race and was very sad. Then I wrote about it and felt a bit better. I thought of some jokes and digressions while putting this together, and flirted for the briefest of moments with completely giving up running during the race. By that I mean both the immediate decision to drop out and the more dramatic absurdity of going off to live as a juggling hermit. Only I can’t juggle. Yet. And also I should probably stick out the running having got this far.

I’m also not a proper international athlete yet. That ship hasn’t yet sailed, but it’s moved its moorings at least four and a half months away, so I have to spend a bit longer impatiently stuck on dry land. Then I pulled myself together partly with the help of a friend and mainly the advice of my coach Tomaz. Well, not totally, but at least it’s a nicer ending than just deciding not to give up.

Lastly, I’m not asking for any advice or support. I’m lucky to have enough of that, this is really just for an insight that might help some of you reading it, and because it’s hard, which is part of the reason it’s perhaps worth writing.

 

Notes:
Particularly big digressions or especially silly ad libs are in italics, so you can steer your reading around them, should you so wish.

This was never going to be effectively edited. Sorry.

Cerberus means ‘spotted’ in Greek, as I found out both at a dinner party (featuring both fireworks and jars of sweets, so let’s not pretend I’m a grown up) and while watching The Punisher last week. If you take nothing else away from this (and let’s face it, you probably won’t), know that the great and terrible god of the Underworld, Hades, called his demonic multi-headed guard dog spot.

 


Preamble aside, let’s begin.

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” W.B. Yeats once wrote. I learned one of his poems by heart this year: ‘when you are old’, and recited it while running through the mountains in Wicklow. It’s very sad, and has a particular beauty. I cried reciting it, but it helped a lot that the only watchers were sheep, and they seemed a lot more interested in the surrounding foliage.

Three days without human company might seem a punishment rather than a pleasure, but that’s one of the many ways I’m slightly odd.

There are also many ways I’m extremely odd, I did talk to the sheep, for example. They seemed mostly unconcerned with my attempts to make them laugh, which admittedly brings them in line with most of my human company.

Having the beauty of that environment, where I’d spent many beloved family holidays, to myself, was an incredible joy. Combine that with the incredible peace and quiet that comes only in places like this, as well as the thoughtful reflection it gives rise to, and I had my idea of heaven.

Yesterday I felt like crying too, but for very different and more obvious reasons. Going back to the quote, don’t worry about treading on those aspirations. At this point the hopeful dreams have been so thoroughly shoed all over that an extra step or two won’t make a blind bit of difference.

Like the captain of a certain Starfleet vessel, I’ve been slaughtered by mud more times than I care to remember. Spoiler alert? Sort of, though it is pretty obscure. Hopefully people who’ve seen it enjoy the reference, but even then I think it might take a re-read. Sorry. I laugh to keep from weeping.

Early this year I had one of the worst races of my life at the English national cross country. It was my second race of the year, and up until yester, my worst. I was pretty down afterwards, but that’s mainly because I felt broken from about halfway, got sick very soon after finishing, almost lost a leg in the quagmire, and had a long journey back where I had to make conversation while cursing death and destruction upon myself and all those who happened to be within doom-wishing distance.

There are a lot of jokes. There need to be. It was that or a lot of swearing and melodrama, and that’s not my style. Well, the heaps of swearing at any rate.

Yesterday I saw a third chance to run for Ireland this year slip through my fingers. It was definitely the easiest, in that the first was a moral choice I’ll never regret and the second was the bloody world championships. I told myself it had to happen. This was the year my granny had died.

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As if I knew what was to come (and, as I’ll maybe write about later, I had some idea), I decided to camouflage myself in advance. The urge to vanish immediately after the race was very strong, and to be fair I did my best.

She’d died knowing I might perhaps make it as an international athlete. I felt, and still feel, that I owed it to her not to give up, and to give my very best to the sport. On Sunday that resolve was the weakest it’s been since mid-June. That’s what was at stake.

I was closer to dropping out in the English championships, but I didn’t feel anywhere near as despondent.

Incidentally, I think what stopped me there was the length of the trek back to my bag. Disappointingly, the precise point at which the impulse to surrender was strongest happened to coincide exactly with maximum possible distance to walk back.

My self-talk was pretty brutal.

You look awful mate, you sure you’re up for this? It’s not a 3k race, go home.”
(Starting with a light jab)

Didn’t you beat some of these guys last month, what’s happened? You’ve really fucked this one up. Aren’t you supposed to be good?
(Something a bit stronger)

I bet those people who wrote you were in contention to get on the podium are regretting putting their pen behind you now buddy. What a disgrace.”
(That was embarrassing. How did I contrive to mess this up so badly?)

People came here to watch you. Just for this? I know, I’m amazed too. Good thing nobody’s flying to Australia to see the inevitable mess you’ll make of that one.
(A bit of future undermining there. Cunning.)

Good thing your granny didn’t live to see this. Just drop out, if you finish outside the top ten you’ll probably have to get a taxi home. And the driver’s probably going to ask you why you’re covered in mud, then you’ll tell him this hopeless story and he’ll throw you out of the car.”
(Nope. No more words.)

That’s where I left it. At that point, I couldn’t handle the chatter anymore and decided I was just going to ignore myself. I think that was at the start of the third lap, when I decided to discard my gloves in what was either:

A futile act of petulance, blaming a couple of bits of fabric for my manifest personal failings.

A deeply misguided attempt to lose weight in a doomed bid to right the wrongs of my performance.

A propitiation (or offering, I like fancy words) to the running gods to provide some form of divine intervention.

A signal to myself that enough was enough, and I had to pull what remained of the race together somehow.

All, or some combination of, the above.

Nothing in endurance sport is a fluke, and equally you always get what you’ve earned. Yesterday I earned nothing in particular, other than an aggravated hip and the glares of all properly moral spectators who saw the prat who finished tenth not stick around long enough to shake anyone’s hand, or even essentially stop after crossing the line. I think I deserved both.

Some things will never get better, but one the great parts of life is that there are many, many more chances to do other things better. In this case, an almost infinite number of chances, as that race was the equivalent of trying to brush my teeth without opening my mouth, or making orange juice with bananas. Even with the best will in the world, short of some sort of transubstantive alchemy, it just wasn’t going to happen.

To end this part, Tomaz rescued the gloves I’d discarded, and gave us both the chance to fight another day. That’s what it’s about. I’m lucky I had someone to save my gloves, and I’m very grateful he picked us both up over the last couple of days. I hope I’ll have the chance to do that for someone else in the future, because I know what it means, and something of what it takes.

The title is because it’s almost December, nearly the end of the year, and I was much closer to twelfth than any position that mattered. That, and the elves hate the run-up to December. I always had a lot of sympathy with elves. They’re probably on zero hours contracts too.

Part two may happen. Possibly. As a bonus, my hip also seems okay now.

DNS, or, health is the most important

Did not start. Didn’t even bother. Didn’t turn up. I hate that: I’ve always loved racing, sixty seven last year was testament to that. I would have had a hundred if it weren’t for a meddling injury and being coached rather more seriously from early September.

I had a choice to race today, and a chance to follow up on my first victory in the MET League (London cross country League for the uninitiated) last month with another. It would have been easy to say that I was unambiguously injured or ill, and that I had a cast iron reason for staying at home. I didn’t: I had a doubt (a calf strain), and had to assess the balance of value at stake. It ultimately came down to a subjective decision I wasn’t certain about.

Things very often happen like that. We live with doubt all our lives. I initially typed: ‘all our loves’, and sadly that’s often also true. A lot of the time we hold things back from the people we love most because we worry about how they’d react. As I’ll write about elsewhere, I spent a long time doing that with my parents in respect to mental health and the hopes I had, or didn’t have, for the future. That changed a lot in mid-June.

Their support and belief has been enormously important to me over the years, and I’m always delighted to know that I can offer them pride and hope through the simple act of running around in a circle.

I run, especially, for a couple of other people too.

As much as I’d like to think going to the world championships would have made some significant difference to the last weeks of my grandmother’s life, I know honestly that it wouldn’t. Ever since her death I’ve thought of lifting my hands skywards after every race win, to dedicate it to her memory. I did that at the last London cross country league race. To try and do it again today would not only be foolish, but it would also disregard her last piece of advice to me: “health is the most important”.

I also really wanted to run today for someone else who might have been there. I wanted to show them how much difference they’ve made to my life, within the small world of athletics, and outside it. These, I suppose, were relatively selfless or at least outward-facing motives.

Yet, I also wanted to run for my ego. I wanted to show off, and have the chance to demonstrate just how good I was. I wanted to win, and that’s not wrong in itself. I wanted to be seen winning, and that’s something I’m less comfortable with. Is it wrong? For me, yes: that’s not who I want to be.

I often enjoy finding lines of writing and pieces of poetry that I can keep aside for later use, like a spare Oyster card (incidentally necessary this week as I lost mine) or a bit of tupperware that’s just the right size for that salad you always make.

This one’s significant for lots of reasons I might share elsewhere, but it stands more than well enough alone:

Your absence goes through me like a needle through thread
Everything I do is stitched with its colour

I so often think about granny when I race. In one session in April, I told myself, rather firmly: ‘remember why you’re here Kirky’ (because I never just call myself Adam). It worked, and I produced something that was perhaps even better than I managed in races last summer.

I have the chance to earn my first Irish vest in two weeks. If I do, she’ll never see it. Her absence in an existential sense breaks my heart.

That’s the thing with hearts though. They don’t stop beating when they break metaphorically, they don’t give up. We shouldn’t either, nor use that as a reason to withdraw from the world. I did that before, in very different circumstances, and on many occasions last summer I needed to be brave enough not to. I will again in the future.

That said, I also need the courage to walk away from a race like this rather than taking a risk. Another friend I spoke to this week said that I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She was right, as much as I might like to pretend otherwise.

I’m ‘writing‘ (in a very loose sense, like I used to be ‘reading‘ 10 books at a time) another piece called ‘hooked on risk‘. I’m pleased to be able to let myself off the hook on this occasion, and put my health before my desire to roll the dice and show off.

There’s far more I could write, but I’ll reluctantly admit that, like speeches, these pieces are often better short than long.

My grandmother, and so many other people we care about, may be gone, but they are not lost to us. We should pick up the thread and carry on, rather than leaving it behind. We owe them that much.

 

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19 days old, yet still two weeks ahead of schedule. I’ve always been trying to beat the clock.

 

 

Conversations with myself: part two

Part Two: Plato’s Socrates

“Socrates said writing would be the death of memory, which is ironic really, considering that he’s only remembered because Plato decided to put pen to paper.”

Sometimes he’s in a genuinely good mood, and we have interesting conversations. I’m not always on the receiving end of a self-talk that would make Donald Trump or Nicklas Bendtner come out like the lion from the Wizard of Oz or Neville Longbottom (early in their respective stories).

“Fair point, and, actually, I really like that. Can I use it in my blog? I think it’s a great bit of thought” I chirp back, on this occasion very grateful for his input.

We were running, but as I’m wasn’t using physical breath to produce that statement, I didn’t really need to worry about it. Sure, it took conscious effort, but as most of my training takes place at ‘conversational pace’, there’s a lot to spare. With an irony that would be sadder if I wasn’t so willfully solitary, I rarely have anyone else to talk to on most of my runs, so the conversations are often of this nature.

The conversations are often of nature, too, and I tend to feel happiest when I’m running through trees and forests that remind me of my ideal of home: peaceful woodland, clean air and soft paths.

“Don’t you mean our blog?”

“If you had a blog nobody would read it, you’re just a voice buddy.” I reply, more playfully than in anger.

“Isn’t every writer just their voice, and what they choose to express? Plus, you need me as much as I need you.”

More rhetorical rhetoric. He’s right too, unfortunately. I couldn’t deal with having nobody to bounce ideas off.

“Is this going on the blog?”

“No, it’s too weird, people wouldn’t get it.”

“Right you are sir. Maybe if you let me talk more people would understand it.”

If I let you talk all the time we’d both be screwed, I pondered silently, trying to play for time before remembering he was probably reading my thoughts again.

“Are you gone?”

“Silence”

I laughed, despite myself, or in fact, because of myself (my self, him? Never mind).

“Did you just say silence? How are we supposed to convey that on paper?”

“Maybe use a different font. Here’s one for you. What typeface did Cicero use?”

“No idea. Garamond? Comic Sans?”

“Not even close. Times Old Roman.”

“That’s terrible. Okay, time for bed, see you in the morning.”

I thought some more.

“Let’s make a deal: if I get up at 2:30 to take a piss, you have to keep quiet.”

“What do I get out of it?”

“Well, if you do it every time, I’ll sleep better, and maybe we’ll get to go to the European Cross country championships.”

“I’d like that. Does it mean we can properly call ourselves an international athlete?”

“Yeah. For real. Deal?”

“Okay, but you’ll have to start tidying up memory lane, I want to try out my new bike, and I’m tired of dodging piles of unfinished stories.”

“Seems fair. Where shall I put them?”

“I’ll just make some room over here…”

Some files start moving around precariously.

“Careful, that looks important!” I shout anxiously.

“Shit. Adam?”

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To be continued…