Friday thoughts #2: Irrelevance is not a bad thing

Trails neutralise time, at times
Whenever I am asked to recite a running anecdote I have a vast bucket of mental yarns to dip into. We all have great wee stories that can get a reaction ranging from belly laughs to boaking and everything in between.

One of my favourites is from a tortuous Edinburgh Marathon from god knows what year. Probably around 2006, I reckon. It was one of those roasting hot days we get in Scotland every decade or so. You know the kind when the heat shimmers on the ground ahead of you like a desert floor, the kind that means there’s no need to put the heating on and Cow Poo alley on the West Highland Way actually dries out. That kind. That warm.

I was running this marathon with my now brother-in-law Gordon and a good buddy from Wales called Simon. We had designs on a sub-4 hour. This was back in what I call my lackadaisical-loping days. A time when I thought that 80 miles a month was training like an Olympian.

The heat had risen over the morning to boil us like the proverbial frogs. Our pace was waning. The half was covered in 1:56 or thereabouts but soon we started moonwalking, and by 18 miles it was obvious sub-4 was a pipe dream. Instead of facing into the reality of the fact that we were undertrained, under-prepped and over-stupid, we blamed the heat for our travails.

We were having a walking pow-wow, all analysing our Casios. It was PG (pre-Garmin) so mental gymnastics were required. At this an older runner, I estimate in his 60s, came breezing past. He was moving as if on a hoverboard, just brushing the ground with light and gentle strokes.

“Time is irrelevant today, boys…”

And with these five words our world was turned inside out. We went from obsessive amateur mathematicians to runners enjoying the experience. This was Simon and Gordon’s first marathons. Why not excel in the glory of undertaking a task very few can accomplish instead of wallowing in the disappointment of an arbitrarily chosen set of hours and minutes and seconds? We started to have a laugh. Especially so when Gordon went down with cramp as if shot by a sniper. Imagine a grown man screaming like a 6-year old girl, “Aargh! Cramp!” as he fell into a hedge, then “go on without me!” he cried. We didn’t. Nor did we get hung up on the time that cost us as a group but instead took joy in the fact we were hanging together. Simon and I had our lows too. In the end we crossed the line hand-in-hand, sharing a memory and moment that will last. I have no idea what time we did but I always smile when I think of that particular marathon.

In the end, we had a much better day once the watches stopped leading our emotions. And, I guess that’s my key point today. Sometimes running with no relevance, even in races, can been the best fillip your ambitions can get. Obsession can be debilitating if you don’t relax every once in a while.

This is the 2nd in a series of weekly blogs I will be doing on running hints and tips. Last week’s is here. I’d love to hear from you if it was useful, or sparked a thought or was downright miserable and you just want to tell me it was garbage. Get in touch and feel free to share!


17 replies to “Friday thoughts #2: Irrelevance is not a bad thing

  1. Every run i do now has some form of relevance, even just the satisfaction of having done it makes me feel great, ive seen loads of people running races lately and take massive inspiration from watching some of these people acheive their own goals.
    keep these posts coming

  2. GReat Post, loved this story!
    I have decided (have been forced through injury) to abandon any attempts at a ‘good time’ in my upcoming first marathon and concentrating solely on finishing and (hopefully) enjoying the experience. It’s tough giving up on goals but its so good to ditch the watch and just run.

  3. Time becomes more irrelevant as you get older. On my 59th birth last year I was stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon with 130 other competitors singing happy birthday to me as we were about to set off on 175 miles if Grand 2 Grand Ultra. Time was irrelevant, just had to have 3 people behind me to be good for my age. Can’t remember how long it took but making time irrelevant got me top 1/3rd and a host of memories.

  4. Just read that you’ve been selected James. Very well deserved. Go for it.
    Proud moment getting the vest . Just checking out the Scottish Ultra Athletics site. Love reading or hearing of folk from village achieving especially when they put in so much.

  5. I’d just like to day that your writing is poetry. It’s really beautiful. And yes I totally get that! There’s something about practicing for a run without thinking about the time that allows you to realize the beauty that is nature around you and it’s beautiful and fascinating and reflective.

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