I was unbelievably inspired watching Mo Farrah run his final 10,000 meter track race earlier this month. I have seen him run before but to be honest although I love Athletics I am usually doing something else at the same time so the shorter events tend to get my undivided attention and I treat the longer races like Match Of The Day and just dip in for the best bits. However, knowing it was Mo’s retirement from track championship, I paid attention. I could not be more grateful that I did.
There were a group of African runners from different countries who had clearly decided to keep Mo from winning this race. Now obviously they would be pretty rubbish competitors if that wasn’t their aim every race but in this particular race it was clear from the start and throughout that there had been a strategy meeting or two prior. Their collective aim was to ensure that they led the race from the start, at their pace and when one of them tired another would step up and drive the pace up or at least maintain it no matter what. This strategy wouldn’t decide who won the race out of those individuals but I was certain watching it unfold that they had decided it was time for someone else to be the winner.
It intrigued me and it got me thinking. My first thought was instinctive and it was to ‘protect my own’ and as Mo is a British Champion and living legend it was a little fierce. Then I watched with admiration as they worked as a team, like a pack of lions perhaps, each there to support the others in the common goal of taking down the prey. Then I was annoyed; why would you do this? I thought. Why would you work together and not just run your own race?
Then I watched in awe of Mo as he ran to the front of the pack, waving his arm to signal to the crowd to cheer him on and make some noise. His face dead-pan, no trace of his wide eyes and even wider mouth that breaks into a big smile, arms outstretched the moment he crosses that finish line and just prior to him kissing the ground and offering his thanks to God. He was letting all the runners and everyone watching know that he was in control of his own race. He could be running at the front at that pace, but was choosing to run exactly where he was, no matter what race the rest of them ran.
The lead pack were working hard, running at a pace you can’t believe they can sustain; but they do. One of the Kenyan’s would lead, then another, then a Ugandan. All of them working hard. Mo just kept on running in the midst of them, a few from the front, steady and looking completely at ease. Everyone looked amazing, a sub 27 minute final seemed guaranteed from the start. It had me hooked.
As time went on the occasional runner would drop back a little and lose pace and the lead pack began to thin out and things start hotting up. This is normally where I look up from the ironing or whatever I am doing and get that adrenaline feeling in my stomach, willing them on and feeling invigorated just watching athletes at their best.
Mo’s long stride and effortless technique left no doubt in my mind that he was running exactly how he intended to and was not concerned by anyone else on that trace. He was working hard of course, but if you didn’t know the time, the pace or that it was a race, if you zoomed in on him alone, he could have been out running in the park. He was in the zone. He had no fear. He was refusing to be pushed along at anyone else’s pace and never once appeared tempted to ditch his strategy and showboat.
The leaders of the pack looked a little like they were beginning to struggle, telltale nervous glances and furious arm pumping made me feel they would drop this pace at any moment but they amazed me by their determination and sheer talent for distance running. The crowd were just as enthralled and were shouting their encouragement as the final two laps were underway. Then it happened, the moment every Brit was waiting for and Mo broke away from the pack to take his rightful (to us) place at the head of the lead pack. Various athletes have been lapped by now and those keeping this pace up and seeing the end very much insight with a lap and a half to go with Mo out infront of them; but only by a stride or two.
Mo’s heel was accidentally clipped as the others kept his pace but he regains his footing and if you had only seen his face you would never have known it occurred. Then he caught his outer foot on the metal track edge and my hands went to my mouth- “Noooooooooooooooooooo!” but he is still upright and running as if it didn’t happen.
The final stretch and Mo puts his foot down and motors out ahead of the rest and as one of the Ugandan’s makes a bid for glory the race to the finish line is on as Mo acknowledges he’s there and takes the pace up higher straight across the line; eyes wide, mouth wider, arms out to the sides!! He touches his knees, hands and forehead to the earth and offers his thanks his God, Allah. Then he runs to this family, scoops up his kids and off he goes for his victory lap, photos and interviews. I went to bed that night on a high.
I awoke the next morning and coincidentally had agreed to start running (aged 37 and having only ever dabbled with two or three miles in which I hated every step) with my Husband. My Husband is a great long distance runner and uses it primarily as mental health care; he gets to switch of his busy over worked mind and it really works for him. I decided I wanted to give it a serious go for the cardiovascular benefits and because, having moved to the Netherlands at the start of the year, it is all I can do to be indoors in such a beautiful Country.
The picture of me running usually would be one whereby I pace myself to the point of being immobile, with a stitch right off the bat and puffing as if I am a couch potato which I am most definitely not. A Fitness Instructor and Yoga teacher, always on my bike (Hello, it’s Holland its written into law!) and an aerobic and HIIT champ. There is just something about running!? Anyway, with Mo fresh in my mind I had an epiphany and what came to my mind was “Run Your Own Race” and like a mantra it repeated in my head and I felt the usual tension that I hold in my shoulders, abdominals, arms, psoas, feet, just start melting. Epiphany number two saw me realising that I should be treating this like a yoga class; get in the moment, concentrate on my breathing and leave my body to do what it needs to do. So I did.
I was running with ease! I have never run with ease; at least not since running in my slippers as a kid (how right is Peter Kaye? you can run SO fast in your slippers!) I asked my Husband to stay quiet; he runs with such ease he just takes in the scenery throughout and I am usually saying “what?” and as he repeats whatever it was he was pointing for me to look at, I would turn to look back but it was gone and I would then say “missed it” and the cycle would repeat because I was behind him and couldn’t hear him above my own heavy breathing. This day, this run, was mine! “Run your own race” repeated over in my head as I ran exactly the pace I was meant to be running. No trying to keep up with my Husband’s 6ft 5″ stride when I stand at 5ft 5″ on my best day. No thinking of all the things I have to do later in the day or praying for the run to be over. I wasn’t scanning my body for an ache or a pain, a stitch or a tightness. I was just letting it run and keeping my mind busy by watching my out breath and chanting my mantra silently.
My Husband is an angel so he got the jist and instead of slowing down to let me catch up as he normally would or running off and back to me, he just ran a little ahead of me at his own slower than normal pace but one that didn’t see me spontaneously try to catch up or keep up. I realised that I normally ran his race not mine. I wanted to run with him but physically couldn’t, but would try so that he got the most out of his run and then I would have to drop back as I would be tired, then I would feel bad and have a stitch and tension in my body and the cycle would be on repeat until we finished (I never quit!) and I would feel so crappy that I wouldn’t want to run again and decided instead that running just wasn’t my thing. “Run your own race” over and over in my head and I just couldn’t do anything else!
I took the incline the same as I took the downhill and flat; just allowing my body to move as it wished. At the end of a three mile run which would normally have seen me so grateful to have finished and ashamed of all the moaning I had done (I’m not a moaner anywhere else in my life so I would beat myself up for that whilst running too!) I felt exhilarated! I could have run on further. I felt amazing! I stretched, did some Yin Yoga and didn’t have any DOMs the next day which I normally would have and the day after that I was back at it and ran four miles in the same way.
I realised in the days that followed that I had approached running all wrong. My character is to run my own race in whatever I am doing. As a child I was ‘the leader’ without intending to be. I would wear what I wanted, climb trees when other girls didn’t, talk with everyone at school not just my close friendship group, I would start petition’s, write songs and poems that I would read for my classmates. As I grew up I would never be the one ringing around to ask “what are you wearing?” and would find it funny when my friends called me to ask that. I never understood why it mattered. I bought cars without caring what the cool ones were, I took jobs at places I wanted to work, classes at college without seeing what my friends were taking or if I knew anyone in there. I drove to University alone without knowing a soul and was as happy sitting alone at break as I was talking to strangers on campus. I decided without discussion with anyone that University wasn’t for me and so left after the first year and got a full time job. Ended relationships without talking it over with my friends and would date people even when others said “really? I don’t see you with him” I didn’t ever care what anyone’s opinion of me was outside of being respectful and polite as I was raised. I said what needed to be said, stood up against injustice and made clear my moral stance when office party ‘romances’ were second nature. As an older adult I got engaged and married without counsel and after years in which I realised my mistake, I left my Husband with honesty and no drama, telling my friends and family weeks after the event. I just have always known my own mind, held my own counsel and followed my instinct. So, why when it came to running had I done anything but that?
I can only think that despite retraining as a fitness instructor after leaving a career I had thought would be for life, that I had never seen myself as athletic. I had been a good sprinter in school but once I developed breasts I couldn’t handle the male attention so I stopped. I didn’t like showing off my body (see blogs to come) so I stayed covered up and pretty immobile. I was slim so didn’t have to work for that reason so I just never picked it up out of school. I would do an occasional one mile jog which I always regretted two minutes into it. I dipped in and out of yoga until three years ago when I took it seriously and now can’t imagine my life without. I did aerobics videos. occasionally joined a gym and in recent years have enjoyed HIIT but I never saw any of that as meaning I was an athlete or ‘fit’. A runner, one who has made it part of their lives had alluded me because I didn’t identify myself with it. Well, not anymore.
In the last three weeks I have run between 11 and 13 miles per week over three days. My longest run so far is 7 miles which for me is amazing. I still repeat my mantra amongst others (I like Fat Boy Slim’s, Right Here, Right Now to keep my in the moment) but I am finding that I can intersperse this with conversations with my Husband and appreciating my surroundings in this beautiful country.
So, thank you Sir Mo, from the bottom of my heart. I have no doubt that you are told all the time how you inspire people, but you truly inspired me and reminded me who I am.