Runner's World Idols
This column by Simon Gear first appeared in Runners World SA in September of 2007
What must it be like to be an Idols contestant? I’m not talking about the Kelly Clarksons of the world or the guys who know they’re hopeless but are keen to see whether the rude one, Adolph, or whatever his name is, is actually a human being or not. The folk who captivate me are the people who march in there, absolutely convinced that they are God’s gift to Sony Records when in fact they are… how to put this nicely… crap.
I get a huge kick from watching the tears of rage well in their hurt little eyes as they splutter at the injustice of a selection panel that is so patently tone deaf that it can’t spot their immense talent at 20 paces. It’s got to be some form of body dysmorphia, this complete inability to look in the mirror and see yourself the way the world sees you.
Look, make no mistake, given the choice of a loose bolt, I’d far rather have a narcissistic streak of self love than dysmorphia’s ugly step sister, anorexia. Generally more healthy all round. And way, way more entertaining for a television audience.
“Ah, but,” I hear you whisper (and what a simply melodious whisper it is, my sweet), “runners aren’t like that. We’re members of the purest sport. No marks for style or handicaps to fudge. No carbon fibre or Scandinavian design engineers or Kolpak New Zealanders to spend your cash on in the hope of glory.”
And you’d be quite right. As Oprah said, after her dalliance with running, “The marathon is like life. What you put in is what you get out.” Easily one of the more trite running quotes you’re going to find flapping around the net but irritatingly correct. You get what you give. Plus blisters, sunburn and nipple chafe, of course.
Except, that’s not entirely true, is it? Think about your last champagne run. The one where three or four of you, running in that tight group unique to runners having a blast, were transported to that mythical place of the pain free flow. Your sinewy legs skimmed across the tarmac as your hair bounced off your tanned, lean shoulders… I think you get the picture. If you’re like me, designed more on the principle of the pear than the Prince Charming, one’s minds eye must at times stray pretty far from reality.
I can come off the winter break where every trip past a mirror is an exercise in self loathing and one decent run is all I need to be transported back to my teenage body. My mind quietly ignores the fact that I still tip the scales at a roast suckling pig above my racing weight and all my pants are mysteriously tight. It doesn’t matter. When I’m running regularly, I am Adonis. Well, not quite. A little more svelte and certainly quicker over 5 kays.
I personally think that this little mind trick is great. Imagine if we could make people think they were thin, while still letting them have KFC and beer for breakfast. We’d forget the bathroom scale and focus on the timetrial results instead. People magazine would run headlines that screamed, “Kate Moss in speed scandal – how fast is too fast?” I think that might be what heaven is like.
But there’s more to this magic. When I’m back from an early season run, and I’m beginning to think I’m looking pretty darn hot, my wife thinks so too. She says she also sees it in her running friends. Ladies who aren’t necessarily runway material and yet ooze a sort of body confidence that is so terribly rare in these fashion mag tainted times. It’s the world’s best kept secret. If you feel great inside, other people think you look great on the outside. Don’t you wish you had known that when you were 16?
This is why I don’t fear getting older and watching my PBs slip out of reach. I know that a race well run is going to remain the most satisfying thing in the world. Plus, while I’m running that race, I’m going to be looking pretty darn fine. And my wife, bless her, will agree.