At this time of year, running magazines and podcasts are awash with inspirational quotes to help us power through the dark winter months – perhaps in pursuit of some spring running milestone or other.
Most are not particularly memorable or even that inspiring, at least for me, although “I run not to add days to my life, but life to my days” does resonate.If I succumb to my (late) mid-life crisis and finally get that tattoo across my ever-drooping shoulders maybe that will be it. In French of course, or better still Latin. Cheaper than a Harley and less likely to kill me.
However, I am open to being inspired and like most of us I often find inspiration in the least expected places. Two weeks before Christmas I ran the Hogsback race near Guildford. It was the first “proper” race I had entered back in 2016 and has since become a regular pre-Christmas treat.
It’s a lovely undulating mix of road and muddy trail and having finally taken the plunge and joined a local running club at the age of 59, a handful of Tuesday evening interval sessions had got me in what felt like decent shape – for me at least. It’s all relative…
As I struggled with safety pins and cold fingers near the start an older runner approached me, asked politely how I was and, in a clear effort to avoid the embarrassment of being overheard, quietly asked me why there was no shoelace timing chip in his race-pack. I’m going to call this man Stan, for no other reason than because I thought he looked like a Stan.
He obviously saw in me some sort of elder kindred spirit and so, trying to sound all youthful and tech-savvy I explained that the chip was actually attached to the race number he had in his hand.He looked at it, raised his eyebrows, laughed self-deprecatingly, and we wished each other well for the race. I thought no more of it other than making a mental note that he was at least one that would be behind me in the results. Cruel I know, but we all do it. Don’t we?The race went pretty well, and I was pleased to finish in mid-table.
I hung around for a while and chatted to a couple of fellow team members both of whom had run well and were glowing like pumpkins – but in a handsome way. The sun shone and the endorphins flowed like fizz at a Downing Street lockdown party as we headed for home. I felt so good I thought I might even offer to go and buy the Christmas tree and decorate it when I got home.
In my heart of hearts though I knew the endorphins would wear off during my 30-minute drive home, and I would in fact just watch wall-to-wall footy for the rest of the day. As per.
The road back home actually takes in part of the race route and as I approached one of the final marshalling points I casually checked to see if everything was cleared away. I was surprised to see a high-vis on a bike following, very very slowly, what was obviously the last runner out on course. I recognised the runner. It was Stan.
It is fair to say he was not moving well. In fact, it was a classic old-boy shuffle and not a particularly smooth one at that; but he was moving. I was suddenly overcome by a feeling of at first sadness, and then guilt in seeing that he was doing this all on his own and with at least another 30 minutes to the finish.
Would there be anyone there to cheer him home? Would he make it at all? Does he have anyone to meet and travel home with? I pulled into a layby and my first instinct was to get out and go back and run the last 3k with him. After all I was feeling good, the pace was easy, and I still had my gear on – unpleasant I know.
But then it struck me that Stan might, at best, be mildly irritated by me running alongside him for 30 minutes spewing the usual banal pseudo-motivational-runner-speak, or at worst think me an annoyingly patronising t**t. If I were he I would err toward the latter for sure.
I’d also have to run another 3 miles after the finish to get back to my car; so, I stopped being stupid.As I continued my journey home, I got to thinking about why Stan might have entered the race and why he was still running when it would surely be easier to give up.
I couldn’t of course ask him so I can’t be sure, but I reached the conclusion that he ran the Hogsback just because he can. And because he enjoys it. And because it makes him feel good. Just because he is in the 70+ age group – and I would estimate well into that open ended category – and finished the 11.4k course in just under 2 hours (and a good while after the penultimate runner), does not mean he cannot enjoy the same endorphin rush that I had over an hour before.
Next year I will check to see if “Stan” is running again (the race is one of those that helpfully publish an entry list) and if he is, I plan to hang around after the race and clap him home. I may even shake his hand. But I won’t offer him any slimy platitudes as he wouldn’t want that, and I would probably cry anyway as I seem to “tear-up” at everything from the John Lewis Christmas advert to a Repair Shop reveal these days.
But, when the going gets tough and I’m looking for inspiration there it is right there – Stan The Man. Top bloke. The revised tattoo may take some explaining…
Written by Maeve.