It is a truth universally acknowledged that a big goal declared publicly must keep us on track. That public acknowledgement of what we are trying to achieve keeps us accountable and provides the motivation to keep on going through the tough times. In running, that means that if everyone knows we’re training for our first 5k/chasing a new PB/running a marathon then we’re much more likely to keep on training when all we want to do is sit on the sofa with a cup of tea. It means that we’ll forego the cake and have fruit instead because our bodies are temples and everyone will understand why. It means people will ask us about how training is going and keep that goal front and centre in our minds so that we really devote ourselves to achieving it. When people know what we’re trying to achieve, so the theory goes, we will be committed and motivated to reach our goal.
So why, then, did I keep my autumn race goal secret to the point of lying to people? Allow me to explain…
The running community can be a wonderful, supportive place. Runners are full of stories and advice based on their own experiences. Suggestions are made with the best of intentions and we try to help each other out as best we can, even in an atmosphere of friendly competition. And as runners, we like nothing more than regaling others with tales of race misadventures, unexpected PBs and completing races against the odds. So widespread is this phenomenon of talking ceaselessly about our running that there are countless memes devoted to this very subject:
But sometimes, I just find it all a bit much.
I love to race, I love to challenge myself, I love the satisfaction of going a bit further and faster. What I don’t alway love is feeling like defining myself as a runner must always mean answering questions: what’s your PB? What time are you aiming for today? Are you running XX race? When’s your next marathon…? The list goes on. Or listening to well-meant advice about what I should be doing: the number of runs per week, the type of strength sessions, the distance of my longest runs, the fuel I should try, the shoes I should wear… I’m as guilty as the next person of getting involved in such conversations and have done my fair share of over-sharing my running exploits, especially when I was fundraising in 2014 and 2015, so just for a change I wanted to see what would happen if I just quietly got on with it. After all, who knows my training and nutrition needs better than me, the person actually doing the training! Since I love the routine of having a training plan (sometimes even when there ISN’T a race at the end!) I knew I wouldn’t need any public acknowledgement to keep me motivated. What I craved was space to just train without any fuss.
I just wanted to run.
Much like Forrest Gump, I just wanted to do the thing I love, without having to constantly explain myself or engage in lengthy conversation about it:
If nobody knew what I was training for, would they just leave me alone to get on with it?
If nobody knew what I was training for, could I experiment with the way I trained and fuelled?
If nobody knew what I was training for, would I feel there was less pressure on me to perform?
These were the questions I wanted to try and answer.
Since I had not only run a marathon already this year, but aiming for an autumn marathon would be a real break in routine for me, I figured nobody would expect me to be marathon training anyway. I also had the advantage of much of the training happening during the school summer holiday when I tend to be a bit reclusive. Rearranging training for any social events would be easier and I would be unlikely to be questioned much on my goals. Add to that the fact that I would be much better rested, and I had the ideal circumstances in which to see what I could achieve.
And so began my secret marathon mission.
It was easy enough at first. I actually entered the race way back in May when I was well recovered from Paris and right from the start had no intention of sharing my goal. Until my summer holiday mileage was reasonably low and since I always train in some way throughout the year anyway, nothing looked out of the ordinary. Add to that the fact that I don’t tend to talk voluntarily about my training on a day-to-day basis or share it exhaustively on social media (other than in circumstances where I know I’ve got the right audience such as dedicated pages and groups) and I really was just quietly getting on with it. My parkrun times came down, my long run distances crept up, and when, inevitably, someone asked what my next race was I could say something fairly non-committal about races in Florida or local races in August. It was only after the Perth 10k, just one month away from my goal race, that I no longer had a “cover story” and found myself either fobbing people off (what’s next? Oh, nothing much, just running really) or telling outright lies (are you running the Loch Ness Marathon too? No). I’m a terrible liar so perhaps not everyone believed me, but hopefully those I lied to (and there were a fair few!) will forgive me!
Although ultimately I may not have run the race, I don’t regret my secrecy. The whole thing was a bit of an experiment to try out a new training regime without others trying to tell me what to do – I even disagreed with Steve over what my training should comprise of! I also really enjoyed not being asked about my training all the time. I’m one of those people who can come across as loud and extroverted, but in all honesty I’m a bit of an introvert. I like to keep myself to myself and am quite content just quietly doing my own thing. I may not be quite so secretive about training in the future, but the last few months have shown me that it can be quite nice to train without having to make a big song and dance about it. Somehow, I’ve become one of those people (and we all know one) that never says they’re going to be at a race then just turns up out of the blue. I’ve become, in short, this person (just without the 26.2 mile victory lap!):
Overall the last few months have taught me that running and training are now such a big part of my life that I can just head out for really long runs and enjoy the process without having to justify why I’m doing it. They’ve taught me that I can successfully construct my own training plan, which I’ll write about in another post. And they’ve taught me that removing the external pressure to perform makes the whole process feel much more relaxed. It was nice to withdraw from constant questioning, comparison and expectation. The only person I had to prove anything to was myself, and I already knew I could run 26.2 miles so the outcome didn’t matter. It may not suit everyone, but I’m glad I did it.
Do you forgive me for keeping secrets?
Would you ever consider keeping your training goal a secret (or have you done so in the past)? Why (not)?