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.