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Ignorance of the Lore is not a Defence

This column by Simon Gear first appeared in Runners World SA in July 2007

One of the clearest memories of a training run that I have is one that I ran during matric finals. We had just written Chemistry II and the only thing left between us and the endless summer was English Creative Writing so the books were essentially closed. My high school training partner and I laced up and went out on the school cross country course for the last time together. 

It was a particularly poignant run because that course held gallons of our sweat, mingled over five seasons of surges and counter surges. It was a very special place for us indeed and it was nice to say goodbye to it together, one last time.

Curiously, I can’t remember much about the run itself although knowing Jason and I, we would have run it hard, exuberant on our 17 year old legs with knees that had never known a marathon and muscles still singing with youth. But I do remember the chat we had.

“I’ll never know as much again, as I know now,” I announced as we ran along. I could literally feel Hamlet’s soliloquies and the quadratic equation seeping away through my pores. I wasn’t being arrogant. If anything I was mourning the loss as my knowledge settled back down onto a plateau. I’ve tried to spike back up off that baseline a couple of times since. For brief periods of my life I have been able to hold sway on the oxygen isotope content of the atmosphere during the Holocene period, on what Marx thought of Hegel (or visa versa, I can never remember) and which one of the Bronte sisters was a man.

And until pretty recently, I could have told you what is in the first chapter of Prof Noakes’ The Lore of Running. The next nine are a doddle but, like A Short History of Time and The Art of War, that first chapter of The Lore is something that everyone owns but very few people have read. And no one can remember. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to be stuck at a cocktail party with anyone who could. Except maybe the good doctor himself, and even then, I’d be far more inclined to ask him about his own Comrades silver and his views on whether Luke Watson is big enough to be worth all the hassle. Muscle fibre types and oxygen uptake rates can wait for another day. “This beer’s finished, can I get you another, Tim?”

Occasionally, I feel guilty that I don’t know my VO2 max. It sounds pretty cool. The Ducati VO2 Max. Sex on two wheels. Nought to sixty fast enough to make Jeremy Clarkson weep. And then I remember that I actually don’t care. There really are very few numbers that matter in running. The 57…58…59… that count down to your goal time as you run up the final straight spring to mind. The 05h45 on your alarm clock so as not to let your training group down is also pretty important.  And you need to know that a mile is four laps and nine metres. Everything else I think we can safely leave to the cyclists, with their cadence and cappuccinos.

So what’s left, after the excess facts have drained away? I had a nose around and found that there really is very little to distract us from our simplest of sports:

Listen to your physio when she tells you to stretch regularly.

A long and social run on the weekend makes the braai taste better than lying in bed does.

Race like you mean it, but stay for the beers afterwards.

It may not be rocket science, but it is the lore.



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