Today I got back on the exercise horse, two days after the marathon row. I went for a gentle run/walk. Foot-borne exercise is a very different steed from my trusty erg, and the difference, not least the difference in performance, reminded me of an anecdote about Arnold Schwarzenegger that has stayed with me for over a decade. In his early bodybuilding days, Schwarzenegger’s least developed body part was his calves. Instead of covering them up, he cut off his trousers so they were displayed for all to see. Now, I’m not sure I approve of his motivation, which was pretty much to shame himself into improving his weakness. But I do approve of the action.
We always do well to be most open about our weaknesses. Sure, this may not be the thing to do if we’re going for a job, or at a party with our old classmates we haven’t seen for years, but as a rule for living it’s a pretty good one. If we are open about our weaknesses to others, we are more likely to be open about them to ourselves. We will ask the right questions and learn what we need to learn from the people we need to learn them from. And it is always good to focus on what we can learn and not what we can teach.
And in that spirit, especially as I have set my personal bar so high, it is worth being absolutely open from the start. I am a good indoor rower. I was a very good powerlifter. I am not a good runner. Seriously not good. Or, at least, I am not at the moment. I struggle with breathing in a way I never do when I row, and I struggle to maintain momentum, not to punctuate my runs with walks (rowing has no equivalent of the walk, which makes it both harder and, in some ways easier, than running). I am better with treadmills than roads and trails. During my training for the row, I ran 5k on the treadmill to see if I could. But off the machines I really am starting form zero. Yes, there is a reasonably good basic fitness level. But it is ill-adapted to running, and it shows in the one or two runs I have done so far. Tonight I was running 3 minutes and walking 1, and whilst it felt wonderful to be exercising again, it was hardly effortless.
In under a fortnight, probably 5 training runs from now if that, I am running the Blenheim 10k, my first race of any real distance. I expect it will take me about 90 minutes. On last year’s results that places me in the last 2% of the field. Which leaves a lot of room for improvement. Certainly a long journey before I end up crossing the line in the world’s toughest ultramarathons. In fact, the disparity between here and there makes the goal seem preposterous. But it is precisely that ridiculousness that makes it so exciting. I am starting out learning something completely new. There are so many achievements and so many adventures ahead. So many things others take for granted that I will see with the wide-eyed wonder of a virgin. And that makes the prospect of setting out on the path not daunting but so wonderfully exciting.