Running and Ego: The Wrexham Village Bakery Half Marathon 14th February 2016

The Dubai marathon is all over now. A whole three weeks and two days since, in fact. I’ve written all I can write about the race: the training ups and downs, the worries, the build-up, race prep, the race itself, the emotional aftermath, blah blah blah. I’ve posted a couple of blogs complete with action shots (I’ve even got a few likes!) More importantly, we’ve managed to get a bit of local media coverage for our fundraising efforts. “Fly High Edie” was set up by two of our friends who lost their young daughter after a sudden illness in October 2015, and who want to turn their tragedy into supporting others. It was the least we could do to help raise the profile of their more than worthwhile cause, and a few quid at the same time.

So what next? I’m following my instincts here. I want to write about running and ego. The two are so interwoven, and are often utterly counter-productive. How much of our running and racing is about us: ourselves, and our own achievements – as grand or gloriously humble as they may be. How much of it is us saying “Hey! Look at me! Look what I can do!” Like a small child proudly delivering their first scrawl of unidentifiable artistry to its parents in search of recognition, approval – even love. Is that what much of this running lark is about? I find myself asking these questions, and recoiling when I have to admit that there does exist at least some aspect of egotistical narcissism in all of us. Why else would we be so desperate to upload our races to strava? Why else can’t we wait to tell our nearest and dearest how well we’ve done – proudly shouting from the rooftops when we’ve smashed our PB?

Of course our ego is involved.

Take today, for example. We’d entered into the Wrexham Village Bakery Half Marathon within days of completing the Dubai Marathon, and with the pain still screaming in our legs (Happy Valentine’s Day to us!) Arguably – some would say – a stupid idea so soon after the recent beasting of Dubai. We knew our legs weren’t recovered. We knew we weren’t on for PBs – or anywhere near for that matter. But we reasoned that it could be a good way to get some decent tempo training in, and avoid falling into limping around local, steady plodding miles. Earlier in the week I sent Gav a text which said unequivocally “I’m pulling out of the half Mara on Sunday. Legs not up to it.” But, like a mosquito attracted to the light, when it came down to it I couldn’t NOT race. Why? Because it would have been my ego stopping me.

What would I have to lose, other than knowing I couldn’t possibly match or better my time from last year’s race which, following a bobby dazzling effort, resulted in a quite unexpected HM PB of 1:31 (*my current HM PB stands from Edinburgh Half in May ’15 in a time of 1:30) So, without adequate excuse not to, I had a word with my ego and we negotiated a settlement: it would be ‘OK’ with a less-than-exceptional performance today on the understanding that I was gaining some kind of training benefit from my efforts. Would I have run 13.1 miles from home in an average pace of 7:24min/mile other than in a race scenario? Nope. Do I need to maintain my speed and endurance with ten weeks to go until the Virgin London Marathon? Yes. Would it mean I can eat bag loads of Village Bakery Welsh Cakes afterwards and walk no further than absolutely necessary for the next 24 hours whilst my legs recover? Yes. Deal done.

So, we turned up and we ran. And it was tough. Our legs weren’t fresh. The first 3 miles were fast (faster than last week’s Parkrun 5k effort in fact) but then they understandably died a bit, and then a bit more. I dragged my good-for-nothing limbs over the finishing line in 1:37 and Gav two minutes behind me. On fresh legs, we knew we were both easily capable of faster, but not today. Our egos had to understand, accept, and be alright with that – something I struggle with far more than Gav does, with his irrepressible ability to rationalise and contextualise such matters.

And then, before I became too downhearted at the realisation that I may in fact be some fragile, egotistical running narcissist in desperate need of approval, I considered the positives. Firstly, we can use our ego to motivate us. Why shouldn’t we strive to improve, run better, faster, easier, further – whatever the goal may be. Without ego there would arguably be no competition – either with ourselves or others. Where would that leave us? A throng of mediocre, aimless souls all trudging around the London marathon well within our physical comfort zones? We want to be the best that we can be. And that’s healthy for us, our own motivation and our own sense of competition – whatever level that might be.

And secondly, we all know this is about so much more than ourselves. I know it is for me anyway. We are all part of a community – the running community. We inspire, encourage and motivate each other. We share the highs and the lows – we ‘like’ each other’s shameless sweaty-faced race selfies; we console each other when race results don’t reflect the effort, or things just don’t work out on the day. We understand the million other reasons why running is something we need – something we ‘just do’: it requires no other explanation.

Even bigger than that, we can be the example to those who don’t ‘just get it’. We were all there once. I hated running for such a long time, and I treated those other-worldly running health-freak weirdos with the scorn I (ignorantly) believed they deserved. I didn’t know any better. If my experience of having lived in both worlds can welcome newbies in, then I think I can excuse my ego when it occasionally gets a bit too big for its boots (or Boosts.)

So, on balance, the ego can stay. It must remain in check, but it’s not going anywhere on the condition that it remains a minority shareholder in my running interests.

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