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Sprinting Towards the Light at the End of the Tunnel

This column by Simon Gear first appeared in Runners World SA in November 2008

It’s a funny sort of period for running, this.  We’re still too early to get our teeth into the new year’s training programs, work is getting busy and our focus is far more likely to be on the December holiday than our next track session. 

But I’ve got a mate who is just flying right now.  This lad is packing in the high mileage weeks like it’s no one’s business.  He’s faster than he’s been since varsity and weighs the same as he did in Standard 8.  And he’s not happy about it at all.

Because this poor guy is busy proving Prof Tim Noakes correct.  And when it comes to being proved correct, our man Tim is right up there with mother-in-laws in the international hall of fame for I-told-you-sos.  In this case, it’s Noakes’ (probably unpublished but still abundantly true) adage that it isn’t running that causes divorce, it’s divorce that causes running.

Do your own snap survey.  After the next group run, wander over to your club’s “silver group”.  Every club has got a set.  Lean, hungry looking guys who warm up together before the timetrials, wear waffle racers and are on their second beer by the time you and I trundle around the field at the end.  Go and ask them what changed in their lives to turn them from normal runners into obsessive compulsive marathon machines and the answer is depressingly uniform.  I’m prepared to bet a case of the cold stuff that behind every guy who’s gone from plodder to speed merchant in one season, is a smug looking divorce lawyer and a string of alimony payments.

So back to this mate of mine (and allow me to insert a disclaimer here: if his ex-wife or her lawyers are reading this and are so vain as to think that this song is about them, it isn’t. I’m making it all up off the top of my head. Really. Move on).  For months now, the only part of this guy’s life that has headed in the right direction is his weekly 5k timetrial time, and in that has been his salvation.

I’ve seen it in other folk as well.  Without exception, the people I know who have coped best with a break up have simultaneously turned their exercise regime around.  Sure, they’re still going to be sore inside for a while, but for every muscle burning workout, the heartache seems to lessen just a little.  I have no idea if it is a release from the time constraints that a relationship places on us, or if it is just a fundamental need to get out of a silent house, but it’s as if every excuse not to run just falls away once those court papers are signed.

The shrinks will probably mutter crossly into their beards that you’re just fleeing from yourself, and that if you want to become fully self-actualised and connected to your inner child, you need to sit quietly somewhere instead of rushing around all sweaty and healthy looking.  I say the proof is in the pudding.  Running makes you feel better than any amount of introspection ever could.  And as you get fitter, it’s as if the grime of years in an unhappy place begins to wash off.

I know literally dozens of people who started running after the most appalling personal dramas and all of them have a twinkle in their eyes now that no amount of self-medicating in the corner of a bar could ever have achieved.  And here’s the kicker.  Who are they hanging out with?  Other twinkly eyed survivors also currently in the best shape of their lives. That’s an Olympic village’s worth of good DNA right there, if you catch my drift.

So, if you know someone whose life has gone a bit pear lately, enough with the comfort food.  Take them round a pair of running socks wrapped in this column and an invite to join you on your next training run.  And if, in 6 months time, they have the opportunity to walk past their ex looking shinier and healthier than they’ve ever done before, well, that’s not going to hurt one bit, is it?  Chalk one up for the good guys, I always say.



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