It’s time to commit to new running goals

2007-12-29 00:00

The tradition of celebrating New Year dates back over 4 000 years and is thought to have commenced in Babylon when the new year started on the first day of spring.

In 153 BC the Romans commenced the year on January 1, and since the 1800s virtually every English-speaking country celebrates the occasion with a midnight rendition of Rabbie Burns’s Auld Lang Syne. Often acclaimed as the world’s best known song, it is ironic that few know, or perhaps more correctly, understand the lyrics.

Only a minority ‘ken’ that the title means ‘Old long ago’, let alone that ‘run aboot the braes and pou’d the gowans fine’ speaks of friends that ran around the hills and pulled up daises. The song then laments that they have been separated by ‘seas between us braid hae roar’d’ (broad seas have roared between us). They will always be remembered with a ‘right guid-willie waught’ (a good-will drink).

The Scots were not the initiators of New Year but they have zealously embraced the celebration that annually attracts 500 000 staggering Scots to central Edinburgh to see out the ‘auld’ and bring in the new, in the world’s largest street party. This has recently been refined to a four-day festival, designed, as only the canny Scots can, to fill many of those infamously long deep pockets that wee short arms can’t reach.

As the midnight clock strike fades among the cheers and the last rocket bloom dwindles into blackened skies, Scots armed with a lump of coal, shortbread, and a hawf bottle, ‘stott’ off to ‘first-foot’ family and friends: the coal to provide warmth in the New Year, the shortbread, food and a dram of whisky for toasting friendship and resolutions for the New Year.

Perhaps it’s the spontaneity, or the drunken stupor, but these traditional inspirational promises rarely last the end of the festivities let alone change our future.

For runners it is also a time for committing to the completion of a challenge, setting new personal bests, or accepting the gauntlet thrown down by others.

Goal-setting is a fundamental requirement of any running achievement yet surprisingly an under-utilized skill by athletes of all levels. Ironically we use the same principles in everyday tasks such as driving a car, where before we even start the engine we know where we are starting from, where we want to go, and how we intend to get there. How many can say the same of their running ambitions?

Even more surprising is that many runners set goals based on the expectations of others. Much of our stress, in all aspects of life, is brought not through realism, not what we know or think, not what others know or think, but what we perceive others to think or expect of us. How far from the truth is that?

This past week I was discussing goals with a recent Comrades winner and his coach. This talented athlete was debating with himself what he truly wanted to achieve in the coming years. It becomes difficult to muster the same drive and desire to repeat an already achieved feat when there are so many other opportunities, locally and internationally, including representing your country on World and Olympic stages.

One of his goals is to be a hero to other runners; he already is, but he felt that in order to maintain that rank others expected him to retain the Comrades title. The reality is that by focusing and pursuing his own desires and ambitions not only would his potential for success increase, but he would concurrently satisfy the hero status.

Runners taking on the challenges or events based of their perception of other people’s expectations and not their own deep-rooted desire find themselves in dead-end traps. This is as true of the athlete as it is of the back runners who succumb to so-called norms in preference to their more personal heart-yearning.

Failing to follow your true longing is tantamount to ensuring a substandard performance. When reaching for our best, each and every runner is put under the microscope and examined to the core. Three-quarters distance into any race we all face the same single-most searching question: “What am I doing this for?’

It is direct and to the point and although there are a myriad of possible responses, only the most honest of answers delivers the pass-mark, allowing us to proceed.

Only the truth and our absolute commitment to the importance of the goal are sufficient to justify continuing. It is an interrogation of our souls that sways the delicate balance between the pain and effort of the task, against our reason and perceived reward. Deep-seated desire and emotion can override the mental thermostat of normality to produce your holy-grail of performance. It doesn’t come from living to other people’s expectations, or your perception of their expectations, it comes from within.

What is in the mind is in the body and conversely what is in the body is reflected in the mind. It is no coincidence that the New Year’s resolutions that survive are the ones that have an internalized drive. Those evolved from New Year revelry, or liquor-filled celebratory cups are seldom survivors of the first month.

So as I raise my wee dram, my toast to all runners is a healthy, injury-free, PB-enriched 2008. Be sure that those running resolutions are emotionally chosen from your heart; it’s the surest way to success. A guid New Year to ane an a’ and mony may ye see. Here’s tae us. Wha’s like us. Damn few, and they’re a’ deid! Gie 2008 Laldie – oh and may the coins and notes in your pockets fill to a level that your hands can reach them!

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