Inspiration v Perspiration

Thomas Edison once said that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that there’s certainly plenty of perspiration involved in running, but what about inspiration?

I’ve written previously about my own inspiration to start running. This week as the world remembers the tragic events of 9/11, I’ve read some inspiring stories of those who were moved to run in the aftermath of that terrible day. They ran to honour those lost, they ran to find solace and they ran to show the world that they had the strength to carry on. Around the world, many people run not just because of the obvious physical and mental benefits it bestows, but because this one simple activity has the power to change lives for the better.

But whatever inspires us to take up a challenge in the first place, we all need further inspiration to carry on. That inspiration can come from something as simple as a song lyric; we could be inspired by the achievements of others; or we could have a goal to aim for that spurs us on to work hard and achieve. I’ve given a lot of thought to “inspiration” over the last few days and I want to explore some of the things that can inspire us to achieve what we never thought possible.

The first time I really felt the need for inspiration in my running was last year during training for my first ever marathon. Everything started out well but in early February I picked up an injury and was unable to run for about 5 weeks, effectively meaning I couldn’t do those big “monster month” runs that prepare the body for the demands of 26.2 miles. Where many would have given up, I kept my focus and spent more time than is really natural on the cross trainer at the gym. Why? Because I had my goal, that’s why. I knew I would be able to run by the date of the marathon and I knew that I would cover the distance even if I had to crawl over the finish line, so I did everything I could to build up my endurance until I could run again.

Around this time the BBC showed Eddie Izzard’s amazing Sport Relief challenge of running 43 marathons in 51 days. Here was the inspiration I needed. If Eddie could have the determination to complete this challenge having never been a runner and with just a few weeks of preparatory training, surely I could manage just one marathon? And manage it I did. With the inspiration I took from Eddie Izzard, my own sheer determination to reach my goal and the lyrics of Gabriella Cilmi’s On a Mission to help me when it was tough, I achieved something I never thought I could: I ran a marathon.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is that since that day other people have said that they have used my achievement as an inspiration. Me? Inspiring? Surely not! I’m just one (stubbornly determined!) ordinary person! But it’s that “ordinariness” that I think is the inspiration rather than anything else. As far as others were concerned, I was “just like them”. Not famous, not an elite athlete, not even a seasoned runner, but if I could complete a marathon with little more than a 14 mile run, some cross-training and a (rather slow) “warm-up” half marathon about 3 weeks beforehand, then why couldn’t they have a go? Of course 26.2 miles is a distance that demands respect; of course you can’t embark on a marathon without sufficient training in the weeks before (as some celebrities have famously learned to their cost), but I truly believe that anyone who wants to step up to the challenge and is prepared to commit to the training can achieve that goal. That, in turn, can provide the inspiration to others to try something new, take on a challenge, or do something to help make a difference in the world.

This year I’ve found inspiration in some different places. I’ve been inspired by runners I know who have refused to give up when injury and other setbacks have meant they’ve had to re-assess their goals; I’ve been inspired by new challenges; and I’ve been inspired by those who do something amazing in their own lives to help improve the lives of others.

One of the biggest inspirations to me and my running this year has been the things ordinary people will do to support charities. Last October a team of staff and volunteers from a local charity trekked 35km up Mount Etna, raising over £20,000. This was supplemented by the efforts of two friends of mine who supported the same charity by embarking on a gruelling three-day motorcycle ride through nine countries to the foothills of Etna. Their efforts raised over £10,000. Seeing others selflessly doing these amazing things to help others inspired me to take on a new challenge and support this worthwhile cause. I decided that rather than “just” run the London Marathon, I would also run the Edinburgh Marathon 5 weeks later. The knowledge that I was helping to make a difference was certainly the inspiration I needed to keep going during those last painful miles in Edinburgh, I even ran a faster time in that 2nd marathon than the first!

Even now, I constantly find new things to inspire me. Recently I was sent a link to the incredible story of Rick and Dick Hoyt. It moved me to tears and if you’re in need of inspiration then I highly recommend you take the time to watch it:

As I type, the incredible David Walliams is swimming the entire 140 mile length of the River Thames for Sport Relief. He has continued despite becoming ill from bacteria in the water and, according to recent reports, saved a dog from drowning along the way. David may be famous, but he’s not a swimmer, he’s a comedian, and this is the second time he’s taken on a huge swimming challenge for Sport Relief. In 2006 he raised £1 million by swimming the English Channel. He’s well on his way to raising at least as much again with his current challenge and his efforts are inspiring.

People do incredible things every day. Something inspires them to rise to the challenge and their success inspires the rest of us. Even in these difficult financial times the total funds raised by events such as Children in Need or Comic Relief continue to rise; when natural disaster strikes people dig deep to give aid to those affected; when faced with life-changing illness people refuse to give up. Whatever terrible events occur, the world is an inspiring place. I encourage you to grab onto something that inspires you and use that inspiration to make a change, however small.

Genius may be 1% inspiration, but in life the inspiration level is much higher.

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